Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Shape of Illusion

Sometime around 1975, I read a book called Shape of Illusion by William E. Barrett (author of Lilies of the Field). I had forgotten about the book until someone asked on Fiction_L for it. I remembered the plot vividly, and that the author's name began with B because I used to shelve it as a page. Funny, I first thought of another book by the author - The Left Hand of God, which I also read. But Shape of Illusion was a powerful story. The following is the plot as summarized on Amazon.com.

"In a painting depicting Jesus, just after Pilot has
sentenced him to death, each viewer sees himself or
herself as a hateful member of the mob crying for
Christ's blood. The painting has been hidden for
hundreds of years. Now, found by a New York gallery
owner, it shakes the few he dares show it to, to their
foundations. But this isn't the story of the painting,
as much as the twentieth century artist who travels to
Germany to piece together the story of the painting.
Martin Heidegger the German Philosopher talks about
art in terms of a temple where the gods have fled, and
the true artist being someone who can bring them back.
Barrett is a master at creating a sense of the
spiritual in his readers. In Shape of Illusion he
brings life into the temple of the human spirit. Don't
get me wrong. Although Barrett was Catholic and his
books reflect that, there is no secularism in this
story. In fact the protagonist is a agnostic and his
beliefs don't change. But his sense of something
powerful outside himself does. And the way he figures
out he's met the girl he's supposed to marry is worth
the read alone."


Anonymous said...

The Amazon review is shockingly inaccurate. "Pilot" sentenced Jesus to death! The twentieth century artist doesn't travel to Germany to piece together the story of the painting, but to find out the story of the original artist. Barrett was a Catholic, perhaps, and his hero claimed to be Agnostic. But it isn't "secularism" that the reviewer means, but "sectarianism", or more appropriately religious propaganda.

Lesa said...

Thank you. I appreciate your comments. It had been so long since I read the book that I didn't remember all of the details.

David Wires AKA David Donahue said...

There are few books that have left a lasting impression on me, this is one of them.
If I was one of the people that viewed the painting I would have seen myself in it.
I have been reflecting on this idea of making a play based on the ideas presented in this book.
Namely that it was my sins that put Jesus on the cross and that he willingly went there for each one of us, knowing who we are and what we have done.
The other story lines are arbitrary and vacuous, kind of a way to hide the obvious in a cloud of distraction.
By seeing yourself as who you are and coming to grips with your condition should lead you to a cry out to the savior.
The rest of the novel got so off course to me but on a cinematic level would appeal to the Mystical Masses that look for fantasy and distraction to fill out their day…
I read this when I was 13-14 and tracked it down again as an adult.
How do I get the rights for this book or the ideas that it contains?