A Passionate, Profoundly Funny First Novel from "the Best Literary Critic of His Generation" (Adam Begley, Financial Times)
Thomas Bunting, the charming, chaotic, and deeply untruthful narrator of James Wood's wonderful first novel, is in despair. His marriage is disintegrating and his academic career is in ruins: instead of completing his philosophy Ph.D. (still unfinished after seven years), he is secretly writing what he hopes will be his masterwork, a vast atheistic project he has privately entitled "The Book Against God."
But when his father suddenly falls ill, Thomas returns to the tiny village in the north of England where he grew up and where his father still works as a parish priest. There, Thomas hopes, he may finally be able to communicate honestly with his father, a brilliant and formidable Christian example, and sort out his own wayward life. But Thomas is a chronic liar as well as an atheist, and he finds, instead, that once at home he soon reverts to the evasive patterns of his childhood years—with disastrous results.
The story of a husband and wife, a father and son, faith and disbelief, and a hero who couldn't tell the truth if his life depended on it, The Book Against God is at once hilarious and poignant; it introduces an original comic voice—edgy, elegiac, lyrical, and indignant—and, in the irrepressible Thomas Bunting, one of the strangest philosophers in contemporary fiction.
A starred or boxed review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of unusual commercial interest that hasn't received a starred or boxed review.THE BOOK AGAINST GODJames Wood. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23 (272p) 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 aper us 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.