EMMANUEL Carrere is the sort of chap who bemoans the Greek financial crisis simply because it makes it hard for him to buy a holiday home. He is, in short, a human being in his ability to reduce the universal calamity to the intensely individual problem but he is unusual in that he has no qualms about revealing himself as such. His throwaway line about the trials of buying a home on a Greek island deserves attention because it speaks to two central themes of The Kingdom.

First, this is a confession made without regard to how the author appears to the outside world. Second, although The Kingdom is concerned with The Big Question, namely the validity or otherwise of the Christian belief of life after death, it skews wonderfully, even bafflingly, to the dangers of not doing due diligence on au pairs, to the oeuvre of Philip K Dick, to the author’s precise preference in pornography.

At its substantial heart, even soul, is Carrere. He describes his period of extraordinary faith of a particularly Catholic variety with a self-absorption that is ironically fascinating to the outsider. This matter of faith and its source is brilliantly recaptured even as its fragility is slowly revealed.

The writer of The Kingdom no longer believes but The Big Question remains. The book is described as a novel but it is part memoir, part diligent investigation of the New Testament, part biography of Paul and Luke and part philosophical treatise. The description as a novel may be a nod to the author’s hero, the aforementioned Dick, who insisted that everything in his novels was true.

There is an undeniable authenticity to The Kingdom. It is sometimes difficult to discern Carrere’s purpose in pursuing certain routes but the journey is invigorating, inspiring, provocative, arrogant and occasionally infuriating.

The work is underpinned by an unalloyed honesty. Carrere has an ego whose size requires its own weather system. He does not disguise it. He is a successful, rich, intelligent writer whose works are devoured in his native France. He makes this clear. Here Carrere stands, he can do no other.

The Kingdom, beautifully translated by John Lambert, is the most personal work of a writer who never shies from revelation in print. It begins by describing the three-year period of his life that was consumed by a faith that demanded devotion to the rites of the Catholic Church. It continues with the disappearance of that faith, prompting an investigation of the life of Jesus Christ through the gospels and the letters of Paul.

The mixture of matters personal and investigations that have demanded considerable study could conspire to make The Kingdom inaccessible, even irrelevant. It is neither. Its strength is that it confronts the most universal of needs, that is the desire for certainty as a cure for anguish.

This spiritual conundrum has been at the heart of philosophy and religion as long as man has looked beyond life into the abyss or into a heaven. Carrere, aware of his domineering intelligence and his very human need to be right, has to have his say.

There is, though, an element of humility in his statements. He declares: “I am writing this book to avoid thinking that now I no longer believe, I know better than those who do, and better than my former self when I believed.” The Kingdom is thus spared the strident certainty that diminishes the evangelical, whether religious or atheist.

Carrere no longer believes in the resurrection of Christ but makes an excellent point that it is a fundamental aspect of Christianity. There is an increasing tendency among religionists to explain away this event as a metaphor but if Jesus did not rise then what was his message or purpose? The survival of Christianity for 2000 years surely hangs on more than the philosophical teachings of a carpenter’s son.

Belief in the resurrection may be viewed as unreasonable, even absurd. But it is the intellect that is making those judgments. Thomas Merton, monk and mystic, regularly asserted the only role of the intellect in the matter of faith was to give assent to such thought. If one was prepared to believe, then other parts of consciousness could take over.

This has a strong echo in The Kingdom when Carrere is advised by a friend: “Open yourself up to the mystery without ruling it out from the start.”

The author, though, seems apprehensive of returning to a state of faith, much in the same way Paul was frightened of returning to a state of unbelief after his conversion on the road to Damascus. Yet Carrere continues to pore over the gospels, study Roman histories and listen to the religious experiences of his friends, his devout aunt and those he meets on retreat.

It is this interest, this open-mindedness that marks Carrere as the most reliable of chroniclers. This is his story, his interpretation of his studies, his reaction to his experiences. But it has a wider resonance. The Big Question is answered in the negative by Carrere. But the blessing of The Kingdom is that he once replied yes and he accepts that others can do so too. In a world that bristles with certainty, much of it dangerous, Carrere has conjured up a beguiling hymn to the cloud of unknowing.