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Black Market TruthReview - Black Market Truth
The Aristotle Quest, Book 1
by Sharon Kaye
Parmenides Publishing, 2008
Review by Eccy de Jonge
Apr 14th 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 16)

Academic philosophers who have successfully made the journey to writing fiction have, understandably, been few and far between and for two obvious reasons: either a writer of philosophy texts is trying to grapple with some profound idea which requires the tools of the trade (logic, rigorous analysis, deep questioning and argumentation) or he – or she seeks to popularize philosophical ideas to a wider, general audience and so writes introductory guides to the subject, or occasionally, humorous tomes (Stephen Law's children's' book The Philosophy Files comes to mind). Those who successfully make the break to adult fiction do not attempt to do philosophy but give the spirit of imaginative thinking wholeheartedly to the task of creating a literary form. The great "existentialist" writers of the 20th century did just that; for who cannot help thinking of Sartre's Nausea, as a prime example? A book which neither attempts to theorize nor to convey any message. And this is what we want from fiction, do we not? Unfortunately, Sharon Kaye, a philosophy lecturer turned novelist has, with The Aristotle Quest made the ultimate faux pas in thinking that all it takes to write fiction is to somehow adapt one's philosophical interests to some non rigorous world of the imagination and hey presto, one has achieved philosophy as fiction. Her mistake, of which she should have been warned, is to believe that fictional writing lacks its own set of rules. No one wants to read a novel of over 300 pages only to have to learn, in the non-fictional Afterword, the reason why the book was written and what its author's aim was in writing it. If you need this kind of information then either the book has failed as fiction or it's trying to be something else entirely. Either way, The Aristotle Quest fails.

The main story follows the bizarre world of Dana, a Greek scholar who steals manuscripts on some black market equivalent of eBay. Having discovered a scroll that would indicate Aristotle wrote parts of the Bible, she finds herself in a world of weird intrigue where the Vatican police force have more power over the life of a US citizen than the CIA which they emulate. Given that it is fairly common knowledge that Christian ethics draws freely on ancient Greek philosophy, particularly Plato, Kaye's pseudo thriller is actually less interesting than studying theology, a subject Kaye would have been well advised to look into, if only to save herself the embarrassment of clearly not being in tune with basic theological scholarship.

Moving from the psychological fantasies of Dana's affair with Aristotle to the world of Second Life and then to Moscow, it is difficult to understand Why. And then it dawns. This book was written to be filmed.  Once the reader recognizes this minute fact, it no longer matters that the author can't write dialogue, that the story is unbelievable, that academic life bears no relation in fiction to in reality; Kaye's thinking "Big Money"; she's thinking De Vince Code. Of course it clearly helps if the reader is a Christian (of the stereotypical American Bible bashing kind, that is) or a Catholic perhaps (this is not for any old Baptist or Jehovah's Witness) but woe betide the book should be read by a Muslim (Muslims, we are told on page 15 are all engaged in fatwa and would love nothing more than to prove the fraudulence of the Christian faith'). Bar the fact that Muslims have, in general, great respect for Christianity  - Jesus is a prophet in the Koran – Kaye cannot help but be scathing of Muslim beliefs at any cheap opportunity, pointing out, ridiculously that Muslims clearly think (in her view) that 'Judaism and Christianity have distorted their message' (p.391). Any reader could be forgiven for thinking this is a racially prejudiced text with an absurd story that seeks to get in on the "post-9/11/Iraq/Aghanistan/Muslims are evil" polemic.  Thankfully this is not quite the case – though sadly, had Kaye's prejudices been just that little bit more explicit, the world might have been spared two follow up novels soon to become available.

© 2008 Eccy de Jonge

Eccy de Jonge is the author of Spinoza and Deep Ecology, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.


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