In Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips the Greek gods' time in the sun has long since passed. Now they live together in a crumbling house in London as their powers dwindle away. To make ends meet, Artemis walks dogs, Aphrodite takes a job as a sex phone operator and Apollo hosts a low, low budget psychic TV show. A bunch of bored gods with nothing much to do is a recipe for trouble. They squabble constantly amongst themselves and plot elaborate revenge on each other. Unfortunately, for lonely office cleaner Alice and her admirer Neil, gods and goddesses care little about how their shenanigans affect us mortals.
Right away I was hooked by Gods Behaving Badly, in fact I read the whole thing in a day. Knowing a little about the gods might be helpful but not necessary. Phillips explains to the reader who they are and drives the point home by giving them the appropriate personality. One would expect the god of the sun to think the world revolves around him, wouldn't one? So, you can be as ignorant as I am about Greek mythology and still know what's happening.
It must have been such fun to write this book. The rules of the humans do not apply. They are arrogant, vain and self-centred- and it makes them all the more funny and endearing. They play out their parts so dramatically. It's quite entertaining. As for the humans caught in the middle of the feuding gods, Alice and Neil, they are so awkward and shy, they make unlikely heroes, I couldn't help getting attached to them.
The humour in the book is the kind I like most, the dry British kind, very witty, very smart. It's a bit on the raunchy side. Religion is treated irreverently so it's important that you aren't easily offended. I think the key to enjoying this book is to not take it too seriously. Phillips has an important message about belief in there but for the most part it's fun. The ending was a little contrived but I can forgive that when I think of the novel as a whole. It's a nice change from the heavy reading I've been doing lately where life is hard and then we die.
(Reviewed for Random House)
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