One evening, Nicholas Christopher Frome was lying idly in his bath when the thought struck him that eventually he would die.
He had of course thought this before. He is no fool.
But that evening it penetrated his consciusness with a terrible clarity. A clarity so pure, so undeniable that despite the pleasant heat of the water, he turned cold inside.
I first read Now I Know by Aidan Chambers in the fall of 2008, during my very first read-a-thon. I enjoyed it, but maybe then I was a bit too tired to fully grasp all the tiny details, never mind writing a review that could do justice to the book. Here's my review of Now I Know from back then. This is the newly improved, expanded version. I haven't been reading all the books in Chamber's The Dance Sequence in order for nothing.
Now I Know is set in England in 1986 and features three different points of view. Tom, a young police officer with the ambition of becoming adetective, is investigating on the curious case of a young man found crucifixed on a crane in a scrap yard, who later escaped before the arrival of the police. Nik is a bright seventeen-year-old student of history who is assigned by his teacher to research Jesus for a film on the Second Coming. Julie, a nineteen-year-old Christian, is in hospital recovering from an accident; she's wearing bandages all over her body, especially on her heyes and hands, and doesn't know if she will still be able to see.
As in other novels by Chambers, the narration includes notes, quotations, letters, audio transcripts, and poetry. Nik's research notes and reflections are put together with his letters to a hospitalized Julie, as well as his retelling of what brought them together in the first place. Julie cannot reply in writing, as her eyes are bandaged, but she records audio tapes for Nik. The use of technology in Chambers's novels is the true marker of the passage of time: if in previous novels the main characters used a typewriter, now Nik types up his texts on a word processor (yes, there are computers in the mid Eighties!) and listens to Julie's words on tape.
Nik is a clever, curious atheist. He lives with his grandfather and prefers to spend time alone; he likes to be considered an intellectual, as well as a loner. He studies history for his A-levels, and his teacher wants him to help a group of local young people who want to make a film of Jesus's life in a contemporary age. While Nik is researching, the group is casting film roles, and they decide to have him play the part of Jesus himself.
One day, at a Christian march of protest, Nik meets Julie, a nineteen-year-old Christian. He's immediately attracted by her beauty and intelligence, as well as her calm and solid faith in God. They become friends, and Julies tries to make Nik understand what it means to really believe. For her birthday, she invites him on a two-day visit to an ancient convent. But their trip turns horribly wrong.
I so wanted these two characters to get together, even though it was quite evident it was not meant to be. At first, Julie sees Nik as a sort of "temptation" to prove to herself that she can stay on the right path and not have sex with him, while at the same time she is pleased that he is attracted to her. As she later reveals, in her early teenage years Julie had wanted to become a nun. She's more mature than Nik, both because she's older, and also because he's still in school while she's already working. Something in Julie also would like to prove the strength of her faith by managing to "convert" Nik. Later, however, she realizes that the need to convert people is selfish and narcisisstic.
Nik has been fascinated by Julie since they first met. She's not only clever and physically attractive, she also know what he doesn't: she knows what it feels to believe in God. After meeting Julie, Nik's search for God becomes less an intellectual curiosity and more heart-felt necessity, almost as if he felt that he could get her through her faith. Her accident leads hi to reflect about pain and salvation, and he sets about to reach them through deeply unusual means.Favourite quotes:“How do I think of you? As someone I want to be with. As someone as young as me, but "older," if that makes sense. As someone I like to look at, not just because you're good to look at, but because just looking at you makes me smile and feel happier. As someone who knows her mind and who I envy for that. As someone who is strong in herself without seeming to need anyone else to help her. As someone who makes me thinks and unsettles me in a way that makes me feel more alive.”
“It's one of the great temptations, you see--wanting to prove the strength of your own faith by making others believe what you believe. It shows you're right. But it doesn't prove anything of the sort. All it proves is that you're condescending and arrogant and good at doing what half-decent actors can do, or advertising agents, or pop stars, or politicians, or con men, or any of the professional persuaders. They sell illusions. And that's all they do. And they feel good when they succeed. That's what their lives depend on. Which isn't true about religion. Or shouldn't be. Your belief shouldn't depend on what other people think about it. And it certainly should not depend on whether other people believe the same as you.”Cover attraction:
I'm not a big fan of the watercolour cover version for this book, but it's still somewhat pretty. I can't really understand why there are butterflies on it, though. I can't remember butterflies in the book. The cover for the double edition of Now I Know and The Toll Bridge is, again, the best choice to me.