This novel is a retelling of Genesis, and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Its American author is 70 years old, and remarkably this is her first book. When first published in the United States in 2004, it is said to have gathered ‘honours and vitriol in almost equal measures’. Perhaps this is not surprising in a country where one third of the population reportedly still believes that Genesis is literally true. There are only four main characters, none represented in familiar biblical form. God is an ill-tempered tyrant, proud of his creation but imaginatively incapable of envisaging or tolerating any change (or evolution) in it. Obedience is his absolute demand. The Serpent, much the most original of Aidinoff’s re-creations, is a lesser supernatural being, God’s colleague until the Fall, whose role is to educate Eve. He teaches and guides her too successfully for God’s taste, because he stands for curiosity, questioning and freedom of thought, and the intelligent, resourceful, inquisitive Eve is his adept pupil. Adam, whose schoolmaster is God, is by comparison docile and dull, though in a controversial rape scene he assaults Eve at the urging of God, who is obsessed with procreation.
Although Aidinoff denies that The Garden is a feminist novel, in important respects it is. Above all, though, it is a celebration of freedom, with all its dangers and costs, against obedience, with all its comfort and safety. In a guarded note at the end, Aidinoff seeks to placate her Christian (and no doubt fundamentalist) critics by a respectful statement of her differences with religious orthodoxy. In Britain, her highly readable, ingenious and challenging renewal of the Genesis story needs no such excuses.