"Requiem" is a book that successfully weaves strands of the supernatural into the mundane, everyday world. In my opinion, this is what makes it so different...and so special.
The story begins when Kate Webster is killed as she returns home from church. He husband, Tom, is stricken with both intense grief and, though blameless, intense guilt. Although he attempts to carry on with his teaching, he finds each day harder and harder; he eventually quits and, instead, plans an overdue trip to Jeruselem where he visits his long time friend and confidante, Sharon.
At first, Tom is entranced with Jeruselem. Everything there seems to hold some spiritual significance, and, for Tom, at least, Jerusalem is a city of myth as well as religion. But Tom came to Jerusalem to escape the torment of Kate's death and, instead of escape, he finds that the hauntings he experienced in England have only intensified in Jerusalem. Tom can't decide if he is becoming the victim of an apparition or the victim of insanity. But there is one thing he knows for sure: the apparitions that torment him in the Holy City are always of the female gender.
When a chance meeting places fragments of a Dead Sea Scroll in Tom's hands he is, of course, intrigued. An exact translation is an impossibility, of course, but Tom does locate a demon-plagued scholar who attributes the scroll to none other than Mary Magdalene and informs Tom that it contains an alternate story of Christ's crucifixtion.
Despite the above, "Requiem" is definitely not a mystery. It is, rather, a study of the effects of guilt on the human psyche, for Tom Webster is a man riddled with guilt...both deserved and undeserved. I think readers who felt dissatisfaction with the Dead Sea Scroll subplot are missing the fact that it is simply an externalization of Tom's guilt processes and his repressed anger and ambivalence towards women and the power they can hold over men. It is a thread that ties the book into one seamless whole. I'm not even sure that "guilt" and "anger" are precise enough words to use when describing this book. Surely guilt and anger play a part in Tom Webster's agony, but so do many other, more subtle, emotions, for Tom Webster is a man who sees the world in many shades of grey, rather than in black and white.
"Requiem" is an richly intense book, peopled with intense characters. I think it is to the author's credit that much of what Tom experiences is never spelled out, but is left to the reader's own individual interpretation instead.
If you're looking for something different, "Requiem" might fill the bill. If you're looking for something intense, it would be a good choice as well. Despite it's dark intensity, "Requiem" is not a long or involved book and it reads quite quickly. While I wouldn't want to read this kind of book on a daily basis, I enjoyed it as a change of pace. Joyce definitely deserves a wider audience than he has so far enjoyed. "Requiem" should help him find it.