By Megan Campisi
Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia
The novel “The Sin Eater” by Megan Campisi is a unique historical fiction creation. Rather unusual, perhaps even strange, it is highly imaginative with an endearing fairytale-like quality.
Megan Campisi has based her 16th century Tudor England storyline on an ancient European death bed and funeral ritual called sin eating. Historically, it is believed that sin eaters were given a few coins to hear death bed confessions and as a symbolic gesture, they would absolve sins by eating bread or other specific foods over the coffin. The sin eater was a sin-bearer for life, carrying the sins of those who confessed so that they were freed for the journey into the afterlife.
They were social outcasts because, except in the context of the sin eating ritual, sin-eaters and could not be heard, seen, or touched. A sin-eater was burdened with hundreds of sins and was doomed to carry them into the afterlife. The last known evidence of such a person was 1906.
This novel draws strongly on this folk ritual with its dark energy, injustices and devastating social isolation. The heroine, May, is only still a child when she is cursed with the fate of a sin eater. We watch her develop into maturity with a strength and confidence which imbue her choices in life.
Megan Campisi has beautifully crafted a fascinating story with intrigues enveloped in emotion and sensitivity. Although a work of fiction this novel draws the reader into life of the middle ages with its poverty, superstitions and corruption.
It is possible that on first appearance the chapter titles and the unusual language style might be startling. However, keep reading and you will find a treasure you were not expecting.
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