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The Book Against God: A Novel Hardcover – June 23, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 257 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st ed edition (June 23, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374115389
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374115388
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,177,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

From The New Yorker

Thomas Bunting, the narrator of this slyly comic novel, is trying and failing to finish a Ph.D in philosophy. He spends most days in his pajamas, avoiding any task—bill-paying, dishwashing—that evokes the "one long liegedom" of adulthood. It is no surprise (except to him) that his marriage is coming undone. Neglecting his moribund dissertation, he labors instead on a secret refutation of religion called the "Book Against God," a work that draws a personal animus from the fact that his own father is an Anglican clergyman. The novel's theological conundrums, allusive as they are, never feel merely academic, for they are refractions of Thomas's personal relationships. When his father's health starts to fail, Thomas must return home and confront the consolations—his father's temperate, generous faith, his parents' happy marriage—that so confound him.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Customer Reviews

Very clever , very well-written, great observations!
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."
Amazon Customer
A catalogue of dusty arguments and tired literary maneuvers by a practiced writing hand.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Perry M. Smith on July 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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 Wood, still manages to make us sense his despair, his inadequacy, and his worthiness as a fellow human being. This is an amazing feat. The theological and philosophical arguments are skillfully constructed and simultaneously wholly integral to the plot (and highly entertaining). Wood also seems to draw on a wealth of musical knowledge that is, in itself, quite dazzling and engrossing. A wonderful book that has made me feel all the better about life for having read it.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Leonard P. Bazelak on September 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 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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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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. But being a big fan of Wood's passionate essays, I hoped for more from his first novel -- maybe something less conventional. Still, give the guy his due. He's a critic who can actually write (check out the first chapter, for instance).
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
The fulsome reactions to this brave attempt by a sensible critic of other's novels who tries to write his own fiction same make me wonder if some of Wood's readers have forgotten to distinguish form from content. True, this storyline has marvellously observed moments, for me especially in the observation of the narrator's friend Max's academic parents in their separate studies, waiting impatiently for human contacts to ebb so they can get back to their research.

But the arguments about atheism, agnosticism, and theology are scattershot and frankly rather disappointing, given their lack of originality. I expected more from this book, but instead of a sustained assault by a young thinker against too comfortable assumptions, instead I received a few hundred pages of a story that moved in fits and starts, with remarkably few interesting scenes, characters, or developments. I do admit that around the halfway point, the conversation between Tom and Colin does perk up the philosophical underpinnings that stay far too buried for most of the narrative. It barely earns two stars, only for attempts at insight that occasionally prove moving, if far too fleetingly. A glimpse of Wood's promise does emerge at the funeral of one of the main characters and the eulogy attempted by another (no plot spoilers) make for a finely tragicomic scene in the tradition of Waugh or Kingsley Amis.

But the whole musical realm within which Jane is shown takes up energy that would have better been spent on Tom's own musings, if they were to convince us at all. A few potshots at Kierkegaard's name and admittedly frustrating aphorisms do not make much of a case for his "book against God" project. Now, is this rather Wood's point? The open-ended denouement may support a rejection of Tom's ambitions.
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