The Book Against God

The Book Against God starts with a great sentence—”I denied my father three times, twice before he died, once afterwards”—and a great first chapter that tells enough to intrigue without launching an information barrage. From there it’s a long downhill to the end, with too many strained passages, like one that goes, “Three drawers of the desk were sticking out, panting to spit their contents onto the floor. The only surfaces unmolested by anarchy were the books on the man bookshelves, whose clean rounded spines were as ordered as organ pipes.” Panting? I’ve never seen a drawer pant, and someone who is panting is breathing hard, not spitting, and even then, someone panting would be too tired to hock a really nice one. I’m willing to let surfaces be molested by an abstract idea like anarchy, but not right after panting drawers. Yes, I want original writing, but not at the expense of truth.

Those two quoted sentences are also symptomatic of a novel that veers too close to an essay; Wood’s grand The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief is just an essay collection, and better for it. Not having to attempt making people allows those ideas to flow much more easily.

Despite misgivings about the sometimes awkward language and weak characters, I respect all the raw skill demonstrated in The Book Against God and hope Wood tries again. A few times I laughed, like this section on the page after the panting one: “For instance, [his father] wrote book reviews for a journal of theology in London, which sent him advance copies of the books. He had removed a sticker from one of these and glued it to the favourite of his six different bibles. It read: ‘This is an advance copy sent in lieu of a proof.'” Lovely. If only more descriptions like those came together to make characters.

It’s unusual for me to read a first novel I dislike and still want a second. If I do see another Wood novel you’ll read about it in this space, and with luck he’ll have funneled his aforementioned skill in the right direction.

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