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As a God Might Be, by Neil Griffiths

15 June 2018

Rebecca Foster finds a novel of ideas heavy going but engrossing

“IF YOU build it, they will come.” Proctor McCullough isn’t a churchgoer; he’s not particularly religious. Yet he senses God calling him to build a chapel on a cliff in south-west England. It is mystifying to his partner, Holly, and their London circle. Mac is passed from vicar to therapist to neurologist, but no one knows what to make of him. This 44-year-old father of two, a government adviser on disasters, won’t be deterred from his mission.

At the building site, Mac acquires four workers/disciples, one of whom, a voluptuous young woman with an alluring single mother, represents a strong temptation. Mac is a flawed Messiah figure who sometimes comes across as insufferably worthy, as when he says: “God is the transcendent Other for whom creation . . . is a gratuitous act of love, a dispossession of a portion of His infinite creativity given over to our thriving. It is a gift from His infinite excess.”

A hideous murder shakes Mac’s faith, forcing him to ponder the nature of motiveless evil and — in one climactic scene — literally to wrestle with the deity. Meanwhile, he must consider what he owes his family: while his long absences strain his existing relationships to the breaking-point, he has created his own pseudo-family around the chapel.

Griffiths’s themes and characters are compelling enough to fuel a 600-page novel of ideas which sits squarely in the tradition of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Iris Murdoch, and Michael Arditti. This is his third novel and took seven years to write. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he struggled to find an agent and publisher willing to take it on. A couple of Mac’s theological monologues are so dense that even seminarians might boggle.

In the end, an independent publisher, Dodo Ink, stepped into the breach. With its heavily allegorical naming and abstruse arguments, As a God Might Be poses more questions than it answers, but is an engrossing novel about how love sustains us through life’s trials.

Rebecca Foster is a freelance editor and book reviewer.

As a God Might Be
Neil Griffiths
Dodo Ink £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

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