No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

#36: Gods Behaving Badly -- Marie Phillips

I didn't have great expectations of this novel -- the third in a 3-for-2! -- but was pleasantly surprised, though I'm not sure the premise of Greek gods hacking out a mortal living in North London is quite as original as the blurbs from the mainstream press insist. They're right about it being funny, though.

The Olympian gods are sharing a run-down, filthy house in North London. Artemis is a professional dog-walker: her brother Apollo is hoping to make a fortune as a TV psychic: Athena runs conferences: Aphrodite is a sex phone worker (her ringtone is 'Venus', the Bananarama version). Dionysus DJs in a squalid Kings Cross club, and makes his own wine. Hermes comes and goes. Eros has become a committed Christian. And nobody has seen Zeus or Hera for years, but then nobody goes to the attic ...

Everyone is bored, embittered and desperate for novelty. Things had all been so much easier in the years they were now obliged to refer to as BC. And voila! Into the tense unhappiness of their domestic arrangements (where is Hestia?) comes Alice, their new cleaner: in Alice's wake comes Neil, who's nursing a hopeless crush on her. Unfortunately the gods have considerable experience with all aspects of Lurve, hopeless crushes and unrequited passions and smiting from afar. Alice and Neil will soon wish that myth was just that.

Aside from [Hades and Persephone], the only other god who's ever been to the underworld is Dionysus, and I wouldn't recommend going on any kind of a journey with him -- he'd just get drunk and forget what he was doing there in the first place. That's probably OK for what you mortals call a stag weekend, but not so good when you're trying to save the planet.

Neil doesn't play the lyre, Alice doesn't tread on a snake. But aspects of their story may well be familiar from other tales.

There's a Pratchettesque feel to the novel, possibly because Alice and Neil are unheroic nerdy underdogs. There are images and themes that reminded me of Neil Gaiman's work, and of Diana Wynne Jones' tales of myth's intrusion into everyday life. There are one-liners (and a certain bleakness of outlook shared by several characters) that are reminiscent of Douglas Adams. On the other hand, Gods Behaving Badly is marketed as mainstream fiction rather than fantasy, so I suspect it'll attract a different readership.

Phillips has a nice eye for imagery (this'd make a great TV series) and I like her take on the gods. Witty, slightly dark, happy endings for most though not all.

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