3 out of 4 stars
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In First Family, Alice Langholt weaves a rich tale out of Genesis’ brief account of humanity’s early days. Starting with Adam’s initial thoughts of consciousness, including his reactions to new sensations and how he names his fellow new species, the author follows God, husband and wife, and their first two sons up until the time at which Eve is pregnant with Seth. Not only does Langholt add detail to the biblical chronology, painting a vivid picture of both Eve’s temptation and downfall, and the tragic murder of Abel at the hands of brother Cain, but she delves into deeper themes of existentialism, jealousy and rivalry, and the complex relationships between God and each new person.
In total, six unique first-person perspectives are heard; the snake also gets a voice, and as a non-Christian who is familiar with Genesis, I found myself becoming more and more interested in these alternate viewpoints. In comparison with the short narrative I had read as part of my Catholic schooling, the inclusion of multiple, and critical, points of view made the time of Adam and Eve seem much more like a micro-society, to which I could relate, than either a myth or a distant point of history. Langholt raised questions which I had never dared to ask, such as why God might speak directly to some yet not to others, and why an all-powerful deity might permit the existence of extreme pain and suffering.
When I picked up, well, downloaded, First Family, I did not have particularly high expectations of its content. I was concerned that it would either paint a rose-tinted view of the creation, or portray women as the root of all that is evil. Luckily, I was wrong on both counts, and I kept turning page after page to find out if the human characters would ever become free from their doubts and fears would be resolved. In some ways, the story became less about religious faith, and more about human nature, and even as an atheist, I became more and more curious about how it must have been to live in the very first human community, without a single frame of reference. My only criticism is that there were times at which Langholt seemed to shy away from that unknown; readers learn of Eve becoming comfortable with menstruation, yet not of her becoming confused when the bleeding ceases during pregnancy. Childbirth, likewise, can be scary even when one knows what to expect, but Eve’s emotions at this time remain unexplored.
This non-graphic nature, which extends to a tamely-described murder scene, means that I would be comfortable recommending First Family to teenagers as well as adults. Atheists who are nevertheless interested in religion from, for example, a sociological standpoint, could find Langholt’s work enjoyable as long as its status as fiction is kept in mind. Followers of Abrahamic religions may find certain elements offensive, such as the way God is portrayed as somewhat distant and rather patronising. However, whilst I admit I am not in a place to speak for others, I would like to hope that some could still enjoy the story as a method of developing a deeper understanding of what may have happened in those early days.
With regards to the editing, I found only a tiny number of minor mistakes, although I initially thought that I had found many more. The author chose to represent the personal development of the characters, especially Adam, by gradually improving the coherence of both his internal thought processes and his speech. The fragmented sentences of page one, which initially horrified me, evolved into complex opinions, which made the character more relatable, and Langholt’s clever writing technique has contributed to my rating of 3 out of 4 stars. The text is too deep and too well-written for me to award two stars, but when it comes to the truly painful aspects of humanity, it is unfortunately not deep enough for four.
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