Friday, June 20, 2003

All right, let's get going here.

I had a busy day yesterday, finishing The Book Against God, and then writing a piece on it, Saint Julian, and The Life of Pi

The common thread? Religious faith, hoped by some to be dead, but clearly alive, well, kicking and nagging at the modern soul, as these novels all show. The differences between the way they dealt with faith, though, was fascinating and expressive of the various ways we think of faith in the modern world. In Pi, the question was the quite modern one of faith as the "story" one depends on to intepret life and experience, in BAG it was the question of truth, suffering and a supposedly benevolent God (aka Job), and in Julian, it was..redemption.

I will post the whole review some time in July after it's published, but for now, I will just tell you that The Book Against God is really an excellent novel. It's fascinating because it's the first novel by esteemed (and quite marvelous) British literary critic James Wood, who was raised in an Evangelical Christian household, but lost his faith in his teens. His novel is not quite autobiographical - his protagonist is a failed doctoral student who is the son of an Anglican clergyman - but the reader can still tell that it embodies his own arguments - against God. However what takes the novel to another, intriguing level, is that Thomas Bunting, the atheist protagonist is a lying, deceptive, lazy insufferable jerk. And his father is a generous, gentle believing Christian who left university teaching for the quieter life of pastoral work.

In other words, Wood has done here what he has called other writers to do, in his criticism: to be honest and realistic in fiction, to not use fiction as a pulpit. His writing is fine, his metaphors apt and revelatory, his characters fully human and complex. And while the arguments against God are forcefully stated (and not new to anyone who's thought about these things), they are not left unanswered. To me, this novel, was an almost perfect portrayal of the modern conversation about belief and unbelief that goes on between people of good will - both in their words and in their lives. I highly recommend it.