Wood's Book Against God
Peter J. Leithart, December 20, 2003
Speaking of James Wood, there's a devastating review of his novel, The Book Against God in the December issue of First Things. Dermot Quinn is underimpressed with Wood's "painterly" writing style, and pans the supposed depths of the issues that Wood raises. According to Quinn, "Wood's atheism began as adolescent revolt and, conceptually, has not gone much beyond it." The thinness of the main character's (one Thomas Bunting) atheism is, for Quinn, a deliberate ploy, which turns Wood's book against God into a book against those who are against God but won't face up to the implications of being against God: "Bunting's failure, Wood suggests, is to imagine that he may swap a gemutlich godliness for a gemutlich ungodliness; that the agreeable certainty of belief may give way to unbelief equally agreeable, equally hemmed in by pleasant social convention. Not so. Real thinkers prefer nihilism, Wood believes, where pointlessness is the point and unmeaning really means it."
Poor Wood. On Quinn's reading, Wood is precisely the kind of closet theist that he's attacking, the faux nihilist who has written "a novel whose very cleverness seems to invite approval, endorsement, a recognition of shared values and meaning." Quinn ends his review with one of the most delicious put-downs I've seen in recent years: "Form fatally undermine content Ea real pity in a book of real promise. In The Book Against God Barbara Pym meets Friedrich Nietzsche. Pym wins."