Likely Stories: The Book Against God, by James Wood

Sep 24, 2020

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry.

James Wood is a respected journalist and author.  He is an English literary critic, essayist, and novelist. The Book Against God is his first Novel.  Thomas Bunting is a charming but exasperating writer working on his PhD, which he seems unable to complete.  He has spent seven years on his degree. 

 


Wood writes, “At the moment I’m living in an unpleasant little room, a bed sit I suppose, in Swiss Cottage, in a 1930s building on the Finchley Road pounded by traffic.  I moved here in May, just after my fathers’ funeral, and after my estranged wife put me ‘on probation.’  At the service, with father's body barely cold, Jane told me she would have me back only if I could prove to her that I was no loner, a liar, an operation which, I see now, has more than a touch about it of the famous Cretan paradox.  In four months, nothing has happened yet on that front, so here I am on the Finchley Road, alone.  The landlord asks me for the rent in cash every Saturday morning” (9).

Thomas’s father tries to help. He writes, “my parents’ finances were sickly; in my memory.  Father seems to be continually driving in to Durham to meet ‘the bank manager,’ to arrange for ‘another lease of life.’  Though my parents weren’t ascetic, indeed quite worldly by instinct, our family was materially thin.  All our textures were strained through the sieve of their finances” (10).  Wood’s prose is exceptional--as well as lyrical in many places.

Thomas had “extravagant tastes.”  “The secularist, as I certainly consider myself, has a duty to be worldly, to take the pagan waters at spas of his own choosing.  Don’t I have Nietzsche, one of my favourite philosophers, to support me?  And Camus, the Algerian bather-seducer” (10). 

He does a lot of introspection.  He writes, “Ten years ago at University College, when I was a student there, Professor Syme called me ‘the great Pretender.’  What did he mean by that?  I think I was a pretty good philosophy student at London—rather idle, very plausible for sure, picking at odd tufts of learning.  Asked to read Plato, I would spend a few days with Plotinus.  That’s my way of doing things.  It was not so much a deception as a distain for the bridle.  I like to be free!  Syme predicted that I would win top marks or fail badly in my final exams.  I won top marks, and then had the pleasure of frustrating expectations by not staying on to do a doctorate” (17). 

There were moments of dry humor, but overall, The Book Against God by James Wood, is an interesting and thought-provoking exploration of the mind of a young philosopher.  5 Stars

Likely Stories is a production or KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and Happy Reading!