I’m not religious but I’d like to tell you my thoughts about the parable of the Prodigal Son, because it was partly the inspiration for my novel, The Prodigals. I say “inspiration,” although the truth is I was about three quarters of the way through writing the book before I realised I was retelling a biblical parable. Appropriately enough, The Prodigals is partly a book about religion. Two of the central characters are fundamentalist Christians.
I have mixed feelings about the Prodigal Son story. On the one hand, it’s a powerful and emotional human story that can be understood and appreciated by everyone, regardless of culture or creed. On the other hand, there’s an extremely dodgy theological subtext. When I first heard the story as a child, the idea that God favours a repentant sinner over someone who’s never sinned made absolutely no sense to me, and still doesn’t. But if we remove the religious aspect, and consider the Prodigal Son as a work of fiction, it’s one of the most thought-provoking family tales I can think of. (Without wanting to go into a full-scale rant on this subject, there’s evidence to suggest the Prodigal Son story predates Christ, and like many of the New Testament parables was adopted by Christianity and given a bizarre theological meaning.)
There are very few female characters in The Prodigals. It’s very much a story about how men relate to other men. Likewise, the Prodigal Son focuses specifically on male relationships. It’s about the relationship between father and son, and the animosity between two brothers.
The story has been retold in many different forms. There are countless novels that use a variation on The Prodigal Son as their title (including a book called The Prodigal Daughter by some bloke called Jeffrey Archer). My favourite retelling of the story is the song The Good Son by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, which tells the story from the brother’s point of view.
I’ve been writing since I was very young, but up until now I’ve never really written what you might call realist fiction. This is also the first piece of fiction I’ve written in which I became properly emotionally involved with the characters. One particular chapter featuring a character’s prodigal-like return home was almost unbearable to write. (Hopefully you’ll be able to bear reading it.)
I’ve probably given you the impression that my novel is a highly sombre affair, but don’t worry. I’d like to think it’s funny, entertaining and easy to read (provided you don’t mind a bit of adult content).
The Prodigals has its own web address – www.prodigalsnovel.com. Like the other Philistine books, it can be read in full online or downloaded for free.