Welcome to the Judean desert — "a threatening conspiracy of rocks, wind and heat which made the landscape treacherous and unpredictable." English novelist Jim Crace (The Gift of Stones, Continent) has written a riveting fictional account of Jesus's 40 days in the wilderness. The Galilean, a pious, simple-hearted, and fragile young man, has come to put himself to the test — "to be the chosen one, to be the battleground, to be eased into freedom from the devil's grasp."

Jesus heals Musa, a dying merchant, just before he heads off into a remote cave. Musa's pregnant and long-suffering wife is surprised to see her husband restored to life. Now Musa, a "sorcerer of goods and prices," seizes the moment and convinces four other pilgrims to pay him for water, food, and use of the caves. Shim is an enlightened man seeking wisdom in solitude; Marta, a barren woman, is looking for a miracle; Aphas, an elderly Jew, is dying of cancer; and the last pilgrim, a peasant, is out for adventure.

Having no food, water, or clothing, Jesus struggles in his cave with hunger, physical pain, exhaustion, and a sagging spirit. Outside, Musa tempts him. Later, the merchant can't get Jesus out of his mind; the Galilean haunts him with an eerie presence. Quarantine by Jim Crace will do the same for you. It's an engrossing parable about pain and pleasure, the two harsh extremes of life.