May Sinclair certainly knows her way around the Tibetan Book of the Dead. She could have inserted any recently deceased character into this crash course, which guides us step-by-step from one life to the next. But because she was writing Karmic Tribunal in 2016, it inevitably skews towards politics.
“My soul’s on trial?”
The revelation that we’re dealing with a caricature of a major public figure doesn’t come until about half-way through, and even before the similarities get too on the nose, it’s clear who Henrietta Carstairs represents. She didn’t even change the initials.
It’s such an abrupt shift, it gives the impression that the author abandoned the relatable everywoman story she was planning to write because the election campaign was in its full, toxic swing and she really needed to vent. This probably isn’t the case, but it won’t have been a welcome surprise to anyone who picked up the weirdest looking book they could find in the hope of escaping grim reality for a while.
“You don’t believe in taking responsibility for your behavior, but that doesn’t mean you will not be judged on behalf of those who were affected by the things you did or didn’t do.”
This isn’t the funny kind of satire – weak pun names like ‘Faith N. Liberty’ are fortunately the extent of that – but forcing a politician to experience literal karma for their actions, inactions and false promises is an interesting angle. Taking us methodically through the mounds of evidence doesn’t make for the most gripping narrative though, and it’s telling that even the judges regularly plead for things to be hurried along so we can get to the point.
Sinclair updates the traditional concepts of good and bad deeds for modern times, meaning the Akashic Record now includes details of how much you’ve done to fight against the patriarchy and recognises more subtle forms of cruelty, such as causing emotional grief and financial insecurity. It’s philosophical correctness gone mad.
If your knowledge of karmic balancing could do with some touching up, this is an educational read when it’s not bogged down by depressing politics. As long as you’re not put off by your teachers talking down to you and shaking their heads at your ignorance, because you were unfortunate enough to be born in one of the many parts of the world where, it turns out, they subscribed to the wrong afterlife all along.