Phoebe by Paula Gooder
‘pick up a book that is entertaining, heart warming and educational’
I have to admit my first response on seeing this book was “who is Phoebe”. The name rang a vague biblical bell but I couldn’t remember any details about her identity. Dr Paula Gooder in her first novel does an excellent job in setting her Phoebe firmly in the context of the early church. This book follows Phoebe as she arrives in Rome to deliver Paul’s letter to the Romans. The rest of the story is filled in with her wonderful imagination and expert biblical scholarship.
Phoebe is mentioned very briefly ‘“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.” Romans 16: 1-2 From this short reference Paula Gooder weaves a narrative of a woman in the Roman Empire, a member of the Early Church and everything that could mean. The community in Rome she has created serves as both a brilliant way to illuminate the life of Early Christians and as a wonderful cast of characters you really care for. Within this context Phoebe’s story unfolds.
There are extensive notes, around a hundred pages of them, to accompany the novel. These are well worth a read either while reading or when finished as they explain some of the choices made by Dr Gooder in her narrative. The narrative itself is brilliant and engaging. The structure of the novel meant that at points I could not put it down, having to read one more chapter.
As summer is here why not pick up a book that is entertaining, heart warming and educational. It is not often a book encapsulates all these qualities but Phoebe definitely does.
Reviewed by Lynette White, Duty Manager at Sarum College and PhD candidate in History at Birkbeck