Before he became a father of the Christian Church, Augustine of Hippo loved a woman whose name has been lost to history. This is her story.
This is the hook for Suzanne M. Wolfe’s latest book, The Confessions of X. No, this isn’t an erotic novel, despite the blood-red cover and giant ‘X’ in the title, but the subject matter is pretty far out of my comfort zone. I’m the type who’s more likely to read Augustine’s Confessions than a novel extrapolated from them. But how did Naiad’s story stack up? Read on for more:
Wolfe actually surprised me with a very solid book. “X,” the main character, is a vivid and strong woman, and the unknown ground makes for great historical fiction. While Augustine is very familiar, his personal life has often been a mystery. Unlike a lot of forgettable novels that try to humanize a Bible character or present a lost story from ancient times, The Confessions of X has the benefit of working from a blank slate. Augustine is excellent, and because he’s so vividly portrayed in his own Confessions, much of what we see in this book is familiar.
Major events and ideas from the Confessions are mentioned throughout The Confessions of X, and for those who have read Augustine before, this will seem broadly familiar, like a blurry mirror. This book is a wilder and stranger look at the story, through the eyes of Naiad, Augustine’s concubine. In love as teenagers, they can never be wed because Augustine’s social standing forbids it. Instead, Augustine takes her as his common-law wife or concubine, and The Confessions of X tells her life story.
And that’s the strange bit: this book isn’t about Augustine. For as important as he is, it is Naiad who drives the entire story. Even when she is separated from Augustine, she drives the story and the events in the book are her own life. Wolfe’s main character is well-written and very relatable. We get many long looks into her life: both the happiness and the sadness. Though the book doesn’t end happily, it ends with a full and complete resolution that closes the cover on a human life. From childhood to old age, we see Naiad through all parts of her life, with or without Augustine. I appreciated this because it allowed the book to take wings beyond the Confessions and chart its own course.
I found Confessions of X strongest when it was creating its own world for Naiad to live in, and not when it was giving subtle nods to the Confessions. Overall, Suzanne Wolfe has created a fascinating glimpse into the hidden side of Augustine’s well-known life. The Confessions of X is an intriguing and well-written book that held my attention and brought me from start to finish skillfully. I recommend it.
Published on 29 April, 2016. Last updated on