We were sent this book out of the blue by Elizabeth Cunningham's American publisher, Monkfish, and I must admit that my heart sank when I saw the title - there is so much being published about the Magdalene these days, most of it excitable polemic drawn from the Da Vinci Code and the like, or supposedly channelled direct from the lady herself (where was she for the last 2,000 years?).

Eventually I began to read ... and read. I did no work, barely got myself into the office for the day job and to the microwave for the odd snack. I often find novels like this peculiarly irritating because of the weird "archaic" speech that is supposed to fit in with the period but of course has absolutely nothing to do with it (think of Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Mists of Avalon"). Elizabeth Cunningham makes a radically different choice of language, often racy, up-to-date. It works.

Moll Cutpurse meets Morgan le Fay

If you're expecting a pious, eyes-cast-up-to-heaven, plaster saint, you will be disappointed! This Magdalene is a real person - larger than life, passionate, funny - there are some great one-liners - but the story is also profoundly moving in places. From the jaw-dropping opening this "strapping barbarian" mouths her way out of - and often into - a lot of trouble, but never gives up on her search for a man she loved, but had to send away.

We’re never quite sure, in the Goddess movement, how to approach the minefield of so-called “sacred prostitution”. Do we tiptoe across, whispering apologies and explaining “it wasn’t the same as modern prostitution”? Or never quite touch the ground, preferring academic and lifeless responses to the many questions raised? This Magdalen (aka Maeve, wouldn’t you know she’s a Celt?) is most certainly grounded and takes this particular bull firmly by the testicles. What a survivor! Is she ashamed? Hell, no. She’s proud of it, of doing a great job and healing others along the way. I found her growing relationship with Isis particularly inspiring, so the healing wasn’t confined to fictional – or historical – characters. The Roman slave market where this great story starts might have sold her into prostitution, but it did us all a favour. And now you know what the Romans did for us.

This book isn’t yet published in the UK, but you can get it on Amazon. I would love to see it published here and I have a feeling we’re all going to hear a lot more about Elizabeth Cunningham. I’m off to order the prequel (Daughter of the Shining Isles).

©Geraldine Charles

See Monty Python's Life of Brian, 1979

The Passion of Mary Magdalen by Elizabeth Cunningham, is published by Monkfish Book Publishing, New York (2006). ISBN 0-9766843-0-6