Evagrius Ponticus would have been remembered as one of most prominent theologians of all time; yet his legacy lives on as a wet blanket who spoilt the party by outlawing everything that makes living fun. Despite all the proofing and planning, Ponticus forgot to prohibit reading about the Seven Deadly Sins. Taking full advantage of the oversight, here is a list of seven books where each deadly sin assumes the role of a central character – after all, sometimes it’s nice to be naughty!
Luster, Raven Leilani
The benchmark for sinning is really low. If you have ever had unchaste feelings for someone you shouldn’t, then I hate to break it to you, you are a sinner. But thankfully for you, you are in good company – with the rest of us, including Edie.
Navigating through her Terrible Twenties, Edie doesn’t have much going for her. With a run-down apartment, boring job, and series of failed relationships, she is pretty much the emblem of everything that makes being a 20-something a nightmare. And as if her life wasn’t messy enough already, she throws in a throuple situation in the mix.
Edie finds herself in bed at night with a man twice her age while assisting his wife at work during the daytime, and also spending time with the couple’s daughter meanwhile. All’s well in this overpopulated paradise until tragedy strikes and difficult choices have to be made. And here’s your takeaway from Luster – it’s good to tempt the devil but not too much.
The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
If any of us took the Seven Deadly Sins seriously, then all of human history could be summarised in a matter of a few pages. The evil of greed has inspired kings to conquer lands, birthed empires, and bolsters modern-day capitalism. It is the fuel that powers human ambitions.
If mighty emperors have fallen prey to greed then you really can’t blame young Tom Ripley for wanting to climb social ladders, amass wealth, and win the affections of a fair lady. It’s only human. A classic noir, The Talented Mr Ripley is a scintillating study in what unchecked greed can lead to. Spoiler alert: it’s usually murders, forged identities, and thievery.
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
Greed and envy are often the two sides of the same coin. It’s one thing to be envious of the living but to envy the dead ex-wife of your husband? Now that’s something not a lot of us will relate to (and thank heavens for that).
Our unnamed protagonist is young, lovely, dreamy and yet she fears being remembered as the second wife who forever lived in the shadow of Maxim de Winter’s first wife, Rebecca. Her days are spent in a great frenzy trying to fit into the graceful shoes of her predecessor and as she tries to settle into her life at Manderley, she finds that there’s something about Maxim’s dead wife that doesn’t quite meet the eye.
With a lavish ball gone terribly wrong and ghosts of the past resurfacing , our heroine realises that there’s no point envying the dead. And in fact, she’s better off not being Rebecca – suspected of infidelity/ being drowned/ being dead. Sinful or otherwise, Rebecca is a great lesson in picking an opponent worthy of being envious of.
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell
A lot has changed since when Ponticus was around. In the age of (hyper) attention economy, sloth is a virtue. Gone are the days when you could banish someone to hell for sleeping in late; the modern eight-hour five-day work week simply leaves no time to pause, let alone laze.
Jenny Odell says FOMO is passé and it’s time for JOMO – the joy of missing out. More than an exercise of fancy, logging off is now a survival tactic. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy is an urgent call to return to our animal selves – one that is capable of being still, introspecting, and resting. The added bonus? Animals are exempt from sinning.
The Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World, Lizzie Collingham
So you thought you were a glutton for going back for thirds at the buffet spread? Hardly! The British empire was so gluttonous they ended up colonising virtually all of the world for sugar, spice, and everything nice.
In The Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World, Collingham takes us across the globe to illustrate the British Empire’s triumph in shaping culinary habits – the discovery of new foods did not only revolutionise the English palate, it also established Britain as a financial and imperial superpower for the next few centuries. The Empire’s sins were so grave that its former colonies continue to bear the brunt of it even today.
The Beautiful and Damned, F Scott Fitzgerald
Both Anthony and Gloria are so awful, it’s quite a task to single out either and focus on the one trait that would greatly displease Ponticus. Since the stakes are high and sins are severe, it’s Anthony whose spendthrift ways and tremendous ego that take him down.
Anthony and Gloria live the high life by being careless with money, attending prohibition parties, and indulging in debauchery – and too much of everything never did anyone good. Pride comes in the way of love and the couple plummets to financial ruin.
As they are sucked into decay, Anthony realises that there’s nothing he likes more than extravagance, not even his beautiful wife. If Anthony and Gloria were around today, they would have racked up huge credit card debts and spent a good part of their day hate-tweeting to each other.
Good Bones and Simple Murders, Margaret Atwood
It took women only a few centuries to stand up to literary bullies and say, “enough is enough”. Myths and fairytales are some of the oldest forms of storytelling yet they remain mysteriously dismissive to the female voice. Women are either shoved to the background as temptresses or witches, and if they at all occupy the centerstage, it’s almost always in association with men.
Good Bones and Simple Murders is the result of centuries of pent-up anger. Margaret Atwood comments on the passive roles bestowed upon women by cultural gatekeepers to create literature of the fantastic and myths. She retells classics in an attempt to make space for the women who despite their essential role in storytelling have been robbed of their voice. If employing wrath to reclaim cultural spaces is akin to sinning, then so be it.