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The Book Against God: A Novel Hardcover – June 23, 2003
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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.
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
Top customer reviews
When Saul Bellow died, a eulogist said that what he most enjoyed about reading Bellow was the quality of the mind behind his writing. In every novel, and not all of them were good, the reader knew he was in the presence of a captivating mind. As a critic, Wood approaches brilliance. As a novelist, however, his mind is as interesting as a piece of toast. He should stick to what he does best.
A good companion piece that covers someone losing his faith is Martin Gardner's The Flight of Peter Fromm.
Through the eyes of the main character, Thomas Bunting, a Ph.D candidate for many years, we are treated to the dynamics of his relationships with his wife, his parents, his best friends and God (or not.) Thomas, it turns out, lies a lot, and has done so for most of his life. Well into the book (it's not a long book, 257 pages) the author shares a brilliant insight into the source, so to speak, of Thomas' lying. I thought it quite profound, as it was primarily birthed out of the energetic dynamic with his father, who was an intelligent, powerful, if not dominant, highly educated and caring Anglican vicar. His father, named Peter (a rock) is confident, or seemingly so about God, Christianity, and life in general. In contradistinction, we have Thomas (dare I say doubting?) Their relationship is an ongoing struggle.
Unable to seemingly accomplish much, Thomas' life seems to be on hold as he just cannnot finish his Ph.D thesis and struggles with writing his book, the "Book Against God," or "BAG" as he refers to it. Meanwhile, his talented pianist wife, Jane, takes on the financial burden of supporting them both as Thomas struggles to be able to freely express his "truth." Thomas simply does not have the "confidence" to say it as it really is for him, for fear (or so it would seem) of the judgment and/ or criticism likely to follow. One could say that he saw lying as necessary to his survival. Of course, "judgment" and "criticism" abound since he is "accomplishing" nothing, lies a lot, etc., and, in a materialistic sense, his struggle to survive is ongoing.
Thomas' God struggles (though he seems to have concluded that there is no God) are set in the familiar context of God as some sort of superhuman projection, a super being. The reader is treated to, though not over indulged, what certain well known philosophers and religionists have said on the subject of either the nature or existence of "God." Also, we get to listen in as the various characters argue
about or "discuss" these themes. Often in these discussions we are witness to the actors quoting from memory, a few lines from some famous thinker or writer. Very mental, but I did not consider it overdone or pedantic.
I might mention that Mr. Woods also provides us with a look into English village life, with its folksy, very everyday human, characters, as well as a sophisticated discussion of classical music, if not the higher abstractions of which music is representative. I need to go back and look at those abstractions again It would not surprise me that, after reading this book, one's IQ needle would nudge higher. While it took me awhile into the book to get comfortable with its structure or organization, I feel there is enough potency in this book that the reader will necessarily be rather reflective, and ultimately clearer, about the energetic dynamics and patterns in their own lives.