Emily Scialom’s debut novel The Religion of Self-Enlightenment packs a punch. At less than 200 pages, one might expect this book to be a quick and easy read. One would be very wrong. Right away, Scialom sets up the world and worldview of main character Carrick with stunning, raw detail. Though the facts of the novel are not fantastic in the sense that anything is strictly impossible, the world Scialom creates doesn’t feel quite like the world we live in. The contrast between this slightly altered world and the realistic events and thoughts that occur creates the perfect landscape in the mind for the deep philosophical beats this book touches upon.
Many times throughout this book, we forgot we were reading fiction. Main character Carrick goes through a traumatic event that dramatically alters his view of himself and the world in general. We see him before the trauma and after as he struggles with his mental health. We see his sessions with his doctor. Throughout the book, there are only a handful of characters and the doctor is one that appears relatively often. Much of this book is Carrick’s wildly raging and evolving belief system. The Socratic nature of Carrick’s conversations with his doctor provides further insight into the character while also moving the plot forward.
One of the things we loved most about this book was the inclusion of Carrick’s book also titled The Religion of Self Enlightenment. During his recovery Carrick ends up with a manuscript breaking down his entire life’s philosophy in great detail. Not only do we get to see this character through his process of revival, we get to actually read the book he wrote. The book almost becomes another character, so allowing us to read it, while taking more time away from plot development, gives us that much more of a peek into Carrick’s incredible mind.
Because the book itself and the main character’s book are titled the same, we found ourselves reading this short novel as more of an allegory. What it lacks in plot and character development, it makes up for in deep dives into the psyche of humans and the philosophies we use to try and discern the meaning of life. While certainly no easy read, this book will make you think. Though it is fiction, it made us consider very real aspects of our lives and the way we look at things. One of our favorite quotes is, “…it was a very confusing time to be alive—or, to put it more specifically, to consider what it is to be alive.” We think this book does just that: considers what it is to be alive, and does it very well.
Do yourself a favor and purchase this book stat–available at amazon.