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The Book Against God: A Novel [Paperback]

James Wood
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 1 2004
Thomas Bunting while neglecting his philosophy Ph.D., still unfinished after seven years, is secretly writing what he hopes will be his masterwork--a vast atheistic project to be titled The Book Against God. In despair over his failed academic career and failing marriage, Bunting is also enraged to the point of near lunacy by his parents’ religiousness. When his father, a beloved parish priest, suddenly falls ill, Bunting returns to the Northern village of his childhood. Bunting’s hopes that this visit might enable him to finally talk honestly with his parents and sort out his wayward life, are soon destroyed.

Comic, edgy, lyrical, and indignant Bunting gives the term unreliable narrator a new twist with his irrepressible incapacity to tell the truth.

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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-Pens‚es. 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.

From Booklist

*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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I DENIED MY FATHER THREE TIMES, twice before he died, once afterwards. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars An unsatisfying muddle of a book June 15 2004
Format:Hardcover
If I had read some of Wood's previous work, perhaps I would have some context for this book and be more forgiving, or at least more understanding. As it is, I picked it up simply because I'm an atheist and a quick scan showed the promise of an engaging story with an existentialist bent. That promise was not fulfilled.
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A British Mid-Century Throwback (Thank God) June 2 2004
Format:Hardcover
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 old-fashioned book of manners and ideas revolving around the callow, atheist son, Thomas, and his wise believing father, Peter. This book has the feel of a mid-century Graham Greene or C. S. Lewis told from "the other side" of the faith line. Indeed, the narrator, Thomas, loves to invert the arguments of the church fathers and saints, just as this book feels like an inversion of Graham Greene's The End of the Affair. A book well worth reading.
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By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
For the past ten years (I'm 26) I've read something on the order of a novel a month. In that time, Wood's is the only one that has made me cry. When Bunting starts his final paragraph, I lost it and literally wept into my pillow.
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Courageous Book about the Loss of Faith Oct. 5 2003
Format:Hardcover
Thomas Bunting suffers from self-pity, disorientation, and lethargy as he realizes he cannot worship the god of his parents, both Christians. Nor can he keep his wife's affections largely in part because his inner turmoil seeps too much into his married life. His wife would prefer him to be more upbeat, socially adroit, clean, and ambitious, but Thomas' religious struggle slowly and insidiously consumes him as he forges his own "gospel," a Book Against God, which articulates his reasons for being an unbeliever.
A good companion piece that covers someone losing his faith is Martin Gardner's The Flight of Peter Fromm.
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4.0 out of 5 stars God is Not Dead Sept. 10 2003
Format:Hardcover
God is alive and well as portrayed in James Wood's The Book Against God. He is kept alive by the author's protagonist, Tom Bunting. Tom doesn't like to bathe, doesn't pay his bills on time, is frightened of fatherhood, and has trouble getting along with his wife. But most of all he is a non-believer in God and in Christian dogma. In fact he spends most of his time in the novel filling his notebooks with diatribes against The Almighty instead of working on a Ph.d he has started. Why hasn't God created a more perfect world, Tom asks, "a kingdom where the skies were safe, and the stormy wind was made mild, and mountains did not erupt and murder had been abolished, and violence was defunct...illness ...rare as the unicorn...no more death...a kingdom where we shall be given beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."
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.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars good novel of ideas
This isn't like ordinary books, or not like any I've read. It's about ideas -- about the idea of God, actually. Read more
Published on Sept. 6 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars Unimpressive effort.
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 more
Published on Aug. 21 2003 by "cheshirecat_80524"
4.0 out of 5 stars funny, intellectual, stylish
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 more
Published on Aug. 6 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars Save your money!!
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 more
Published on Aug. 2 2003 by james
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving and Stimulating
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 more
Published on July 27 2003 by Perry M. Smith
3.0 out of 5 stars good first novel, but expected better from famed critic
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 more
Published on July 16 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars An amalgamation of ideas
The Book Against God serves as a modern novel written through the use of many old techniques. Instead of being consumed with flashy magical realism or strange postmodern... Read more
Published on July 14 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars a real old-fashioned novel of ideas
They don't make 'em like this anymore. There'll be people who don't dig this kind of thing, but for anyone who likes Camus or Mann, or even George Eliot, this novel really... Read more
Published on July 7 2003
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