As a God Might Be is a real one-off and, whatever its flaws, we should be grateful to its authorby Chris Moss / January 25, 2018 / Leave a comment
Part way through this 600-page novel a chapter opens with the line: “Earlier in the day Rebecca had handed McCullough a copy of The Brothers Karamazov from the bottom of her rucksack.” For much of As a God Might Be, you get the feeling that the author, Neil Griffiths—much praised for his two previous novels, Betrayal in Naples and Saving Caravaggio—is lugging Dostoevsky’s Christian existentialist classic in his own backpack.
A hitherto not-very-religious middle-aged man, Proctor McCullough, successful in his career, happy with his partner and a devoted father to young twins, leaves his London home for a cliff on the south coast where he builds a church. McCullough believes he has seen the light; friends think he’s having a midlife crisis. Discussions about mysticism, eschatology and translations from Scripture proliferate. Love, a miracle and a murder interrupt the central mission.
Given that Britain seems to have a waning interest in established religion, As a God Might Be is a brave project—writing it cost Griffiths his agent, who thought it unsellable, as did many publishers. Purely as a piece of writing, though, it is only partially successful.
Griffiths tells us that “from invisible distances the air crackled with sound,” before bathetically informing us that it’s bin men making this din. McCullough reads a beautifully turned line of Wallace Stevens (“She says, ‘But in contentment I still feel/The need of some imperishable bliss’”) and responds with a demotic, “you and me both.” The text is overloaded with abstract nouns and theological jargon; slabs of prose look as if they have been dropped onto the page.
But if As a God Might Be draws you in, it’s because you grasp early on that it is the author who’s having this crisis of faith. There is a real sense in which a mind at odds with itself keeps escaping from the story. In a sense that’s part of the point: this is a novel about taking risks. As a God Might Be is a real one-off and, whatever its flaws, we should be grateful to its author.
As a God Might Be by Neil Griffiths is published by Dodo Ink (£12.99)