The premise of As a God Might Be – in which a middle-aged man with no previous religious conviction leaves his family to go and build a church on a remote clifftop – might seem strangely at odds with perceived concerns of the modern world, as may the entire tradition of the religious novel. However, much like the enduringly popular Dostoevsky, this work of fiction is as philosophically and morally provocative as it is breath-taking in its plotting and exquisite writing.
For a six-hundred page novel about a man’s spiritual crisis As a God Might Be is a compulsive page-turner. Harnessing the gripping social and ethical complexities of Iris Murdoch or Stephen Poliakoff, the focus of the novel opens out from Proctor McCullough and the mismatched band of waifs and strays that come to help him build his church, to his circle of friends and family in London.
The handling of religion in the book is fitting and relatable in these secular times – McCullough’s newly wrought faith is treated with a believable mix of bewilderment, derision and humour by friends, family and the little group that forms around his project. His own feelings about religion and his relationship to God are nuanced, fluid and ambiguous, as are the implications of his resulting behaviour towards those close to him.
Moving back and forth between central and suburban London and the small English coastal town where the church is being constructed, the plot gives a lucid rendering of both locations. The characters which populate these places are vivid and engaging; and often just unlikeable enough to be utterly compelling. When one of his ‘followers’ commits a horrific crime McCullough’s increasingly unstable world is thrown into dizzying chaos.
Neil Griffiths is well-known in literary spheres – not only for his previous works Betrayal in Naples (2004) and Saving Caravaggio (2006), both published by Penguin – but for being the founder of the fantastic Republic of Consciousness Prize, which awards books published by small presses.
Endorsements from a bevy of Griffiths’s admirers are already flooding in, ahead of the book’s publication date on 26th October:
“There is no middle flight about this mighty novel. And at its heart there is that divine madness which is the mark of the true work of art.” – Mike McCormack, author of Solar Bones
“As a God Might Be is a stunning existential drama – concerned principally with the reasonable unreason of a modern-day Brand or Fitzcarraldo, and, furthermore, the mortal struggle to find a path through life, to nurture those we love, to achieve anything at all, however tenuous and time-beleaguered. Beautifully written and brilliantly conceived – a monumental achievement.” – Joanna Kavenna, author of A Field Guide to Reality
“As a God Might Be is written with energy and vividness and deals uncompromisingly honestly with the human complexities of encountering and speaking about God.” – Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury
“Imagine, if you can, a contemporary novel with the theological engagement of Dostoyevsky and the ethical seriousness of George Eliot . . . As a God Might Be addresses with some of the most serious and pressing questions about our twenty-first century sense of identity without either cynicism or soppiness and it will confront all open-hearted (or minded) readers with themselves and the universe they stand in. This is a strange, disturbing and extremely beautiful novel. It is the sort of novel I thought could not be written nowadays. How lovely and exciting to be wrong.” – Sara Maitland, author of A Book of Silence
“A bold, provocative and disorienting novel. Its metaphysical questing, moral conundrums and sexual entanglements are worthy of Iris Murdoch.” – Michael Arditti, author of Easter and The Enemy of the Good
“The ambition and moral sweep of the novel is brilliant as is the gentle but insistent voice.” – Paul Pickering, author of Wild Harry and Perfect English
This is truly an epic novel in every sense of the word – one that understandably, given its colossal scope, took Griffiths many years to write. It is a spectacular achievement that it is sure to be the talk of the literary world for the coming months (at least).