Monday, May 18, 2009

The Book Against God

Today I began my second week of jury duty in the court house at 400 McAllister Street in San Francisco's Civic Center. During the (short) breaks in the corridor outside the courtroom I finished The Book Against God, a 2003 novel by James Wood. The narrator splashes verbal inventiveness in all directions, which is entertaining. Gradually every other character in the book realizes what a creepy personality this inventive narrator possesses, and he is left at the end as the only person still deluded by his own ever-ready fluency. As I closed the book I decided that James Wood had probably consciously set himself the task of putting across a witty (while reprehensible) hero. A reprehensible (while witty) hero.

Anyway, here are two examples of the virtuosity on display.

After lunch we took Fiona, who had not visited Durham before, to the cathedral. The building rose up before us with black wings of stone. As we crossed the broad apron of grass in front of the cathedral, I reflected that the monks and masons who built it so long ago could not have foreseen a time when many or most of its visitors did not believe in God. Yet perhaps they did foresee that time: for what was the purpose of this sheer enormity except as a kind of insurance against the scepticism of futurity? Here we were, unbelievers at the end of the twentieth century, still bowing our heads before its size, and throughout Europe were these great flying buildings which had lasted longer than God, flying like the flags of countries that had disappeared.

... and at three the television, briefly put on for the Queen's Christmas Address to the Nation. Yes, she was the same as usual, sitting in a bosomy room in Buckingham Palace. She was really no beauty, the queen: that broad lion-mouth, which she got from her father, with wide littoral of upper lip, was now giving her a royal-animal look, as if through sheer longevity she were becoming one of the heraldic beasts on her own crest. To read, she wore enormous square spectacles, each lens like a little television screen. Her baked hair had an unnatural streetlamp tinge. She spoke in a high voice about the Commonwealth, about a visit to India, about goodwill to all men, and wished "people of all faiths" a very happy Christmas – which struck me as illogical. The national anthem played, while an overhead shot tempted the masses with a vision of the mottled rooftops of the palace.

You see what a rotter he is? Who is he to criticize the Queen's physical appearance? I'm sure the Queen looks a million times better at age 83 than this (young) fictional character can ever hope to do. No wonder he loses all his friends and his wife kicks him out and his father dies.