The Book Against God: A Novel Paperback – Jun 1 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Joining the select company of critics who write serious fiction-and do it well-New Republic book critic Wood produces a novel in the tradition of Hazlitt's Liber Amoris and Sainte-Beuve's Volupt. Like his predecessors, Wood is interested primarily in portraiture, and the portrait he draws here is of a feckless philosophy student who must come to terms with the shambles of his life. Tom Bunting begins his narrative with a survey of his miserable bed-sit in London. He is in exile from the wonderful flat in Islington he used to share with his wife, Jane Sheridan, who earned the rent from her work as a pianist. Penniless and hopelessly given to lying, Tom has also been neglecting his dissertation to scribble little impious apertus in various notebooks. This he rather grandly calls his "Book against God"-a sort of anti-Penses. The book-and in a sense his whole wretched life-is a muffled rebellion against his father, Peter, a charming, learned, blissfully married vicar in North England. Another source of resentment is Tom's best childhood friend, Max Thurlow, who not only is an important columnist for the Times but has been talking to Jane about Jane's connubial unhappiness. Though on the surface Tom might seem a thoroughly pathetic, despicable character, Wood succeeds against the odds in making him sympathetic and even charming. Muddling through his breakup with Jane, the drift of his ambitions and his father's death, Tom wrestles disarmingly with metaphysical and religious dilemmas that Wood gives fresh urgency and meaning. Like Iris Murdoch, Wood is the rare novelist able to dramatize the life of ideas and give it human dimension.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* It will come as no surprise to readers of literary critic Wood's brilliant essay collection, The Broken Estate (1999), that his first novel is a comedy of faith, given his fascination with the nexus between traditional religion and the modern sense of the sacred in art. Drawing on his British heritage, Wood presents Thomas Bunting, a would-be philosopher at odds with his village priest father's seemingly complacent Christianity. Tom is supposed to be completing his Ph.D. while his beautiful and forbearing pianist wife, Jane, supports them, but he is a self-indulgent laggard who hates to bathe and loves to tell lies, and instead of working on his dissertation, this doubting Thomas has been obsessed with a project he calls "The Book against God," or BAG for short, a long theological rant against the church. While this erstwhile atheist struggles through a prolonged crisis of faith, Wood proves himself to be a delectably witty writer. Sounding a bit like the Amis boys but with a civilizing touch of Barbara Pym, his dialogue is crisp and his characters irresistible while in his lush descriptions of everything from rain-drenched landscapes to Jane's expressive ponytail, every judiciously selected word carries emotional, moral, or spiritual weight. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book starts and ends with the character at the same point in space and time. The middle is all backstory. There's no discernible character arc and no resolution whatsoever - which would lead some to quibble with the author's assertion that this book is "a novel." This book is a portrait of a rather unsympathetic character who reveals himself slowly but doesn't seem to change. Mostly, this book is a discussion on religious belief, hung on the sad scaffolding of a narrator who is both unreliable and ambivalent.
In addition, the book's tone swings wildly between realistic, down-to-earth dialogue and character depictions, and the most overwrought descriptions I have ever read. As regular as clockwork and usually in chunks, you get descriptions like this gem: "As the cows sighted us, they pricked a swaying wander over the sucking mud, came to the fence and snorted faint figures of steam. Their mooing noises buzzed deep down in their unemotional throats." Self-conscious passages like that managed to jerk me out of any tenous connection I might have had with the character and the ongoing story, such as it was.
On the whole, this book reads more like an author's idea and notes for a book. (That is certainly what the narrator would argue, but acknowledging a flaw doesn't make it less flawed.) I'm sure existentialism and narrative flow can be successfully married, to great effect. "The Book Against God" doesn't manage it.
I am Jewish, not religious. I have no gripes with Christianity, nor am I particularly well versed in the New Testament. Saint Peter denied Jesus three times, as does Thomas Bunting his father. Wood's religious-philosophical musings propel the narrative, but it's the relationship between a son and his earthly father that lies at the heart of Wood's and Bunting's so-called "BAG." A better twentieth century story of father and son you'd be hard pressed to find. (I realize this is from the 21st... it is, in my opinion, that good.)
Wood's criticism has a preternatural quality (how could someone so young be so well read?), and the Book Against God, while flawed and self-consciously limited, displays a profound understaning of literature, its roles, capabilities and power. I'm grateful he's made the move to fiction and look forward to future works.
There are many things the reader may not like about author Wood's protagonist, Tom Bunting, but his thoughts here strike a universal and idealistic cord that resonates well. In fact, author and literary critic Wood has created in Tom a very human and believable character. The Book Against God functions well on both the theological and human level. Not only Tom but other characters in the novel contain verisimilitude--particulary Tom's father, who is a minister in the English village where our hero grew up. Much of the novel is taken up with Tom's rebellion, not only against God, but also against the Christian beliefs of his parents. In addition, many of the villagers are presented in a warm, sympathetic, and idiosyncratic way by Mr. Wood.
If you like an novel that blends the ordinary and the profound (to say nothing of the controversial), you will find The Book Against God to be thought-provoking and entertaining.
Most recent customer reviews
At a slim 250+ pages, the eminent critic, James Wood, uses a fractured story line (reminiscent of Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier) to convey a consistently entertaining... Read morePublished on June 2 2004 by Patrick Odaniel
Thomas Bunting suffers from self-pity, disorientation, and lethargy as he realizes he cannot worship the god of his parents, both Christians. Read morePublished on Oct. 5 2003 by M. JEFFREY MCMAHON
This isn't like ordinary books, or not like any I've read. It's about ideas -- about the idea of God, actually. Read morePublished on Sept. 5 2003
The portraiture of this novel began and remained disappointingly lifeless. Despite a minor revelation to the protagonist, it remained difficult to view him with any compassion; he... Read morePublished on Aug. 21 2003
I was told about this novel because I read theology, and think about God etc (I am NOT a believer). It doesn't disappoint. Read morePublished on Aug. 6 2003
What is this ..., this psycopath has given us a novel of boring consequences. I'm sure pretentious Book Festival types will hail its "genius". Read morePublished on Aug. 2 2003 by james
An amazing bit of writing, remarkable for both its style and its intellectual honesty. Despite the fact that the fictional narrator is exceptionally unappealing, the author, James... Read morePublished on July 26 2003 by Perry M. Smith
This is a very funny book, with lots of Evelyn Waugh-type comedy, and English eccentrics and village life etc etc. And there's plenty to chew on intelectually. Read morePublished on July 16 2003