The Book Against God A Novel

James Wood




Trade Paperback

272 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy
A New York Times Notable Book
A Los Angeles Times Best Book

Thomas Bunting, the charming, feckless, and exasperating narrator of James Wood's first novel, is in despair. His marriage is disintegrating, and his academic career is in ruins: instead of completing his philosophy Ph.D. (still unfinished after seven years), he is secretly writing what he hopes will be his masterwork, a vast atheistic project to be titled "The Book Against God."

When his father—a brilliant and much-loved parish priest—suddenly falls ill, Thomas returns to his family home, a tiny village in the north of England. There, Thomas hopes, he may finally be able to communicate honestly with his parents and sort out his own wayward life. But Thomas is a chronic liar as well as an atheist, and he finds, instead, that under their roof he soon reverts to the evasive patterns of his childhood years—with disastrous results.

The story of a husband and a wife, a father and a son, faith and disbelief, and a hero who couldn't tell the truth if his life depended on it, The Book Against God is at once hilarious and poignant; it introduces an original comic voice—edgy, elegiac, lyrical, and indignant—and, in the irrepressible Thomas Bunting, one of the strangest philosophers in contemporary fiction.


Praise for The Book Against God

"[Wood] has succeeded remarkably well . . . [The Book Against God] is neither DeLillo nor Dickens, but a silky work, part satire and part picaresque and, underneath, a novel of ideas."—Richard Eder, The New York Times

"The Book Against God isn't stilted, safe, or derivative; it's real flesh and blood, rather old-fashioned, considering Wood's tastes as a critic, with humor, passion, and some serious flaws that strangely serve to make the novel more endearing."—San Francisco Chronicle

"Wood writes like a dream [and] nails his targets brilliantly . . . [The book is] often wildly funny . . . A comic novel, very much in the curmudgeonly tradition of [Kingsly] Amis and Waugh."—Daniel Menhelsohn, The New York Times Book Review

"The Book Against God is a small, quiet novel, a piece of music for solo voice. That voice is often unpleasant, all too human, and rarely likable, and Wood's success is in the degree to which he redeems those very qualities."—Wyatt Mason, Harper's Magazine

"Many passages in the novel delight, and show Wood's gift for insightful description."—Carlin Romano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"[A] yeoman-like work full of intellectual twists and often delightful prose."—Jason Goldsmith, The Virginia Quarterly Review

"A proficient, intellectually stimulating and amusing first novel. Wood does some technical things so well that it would be a shame if he did not continue in the trade. His characterizations are so vivid, their descriptions so precise, that this book could be used as an exemplar for students. For instance, there are three sets of parents here . . . and each individual among them is as sharply defined as any of Jane Austen's . . . He is also deft at moving backward and forward in time, something that many writers do clumsily, with ponderous flashbacks . . . His skittering leaps . . . work well because Wood has a firm grasp of form."—Alice K. Turner, The Washington Post

"The witty, serious, and intelligent Book Against God . . . matches Wood's high critical standards."—Jeffrey Meyers, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Like Wood's criticism, The Book Against God is full ideas, irony, and intelligence."—The Miami Herald

"The Book Against God is an elegant novel of ideas in the form of a mordant social comedy. The depiction of its breathtakingly objectionable narrator is brilliant . . . For intellectual pleasure, low comedy, acute psychological portraiture, this is a book to savor."—Norman Rush

"The Book Against God, James Wood's much-awaited first novel, is so intriguing in part because of the technical resourcefulness with which it unites two hitherto distinct literary traditions: the familiar story of a young man's principled revolt against the faith in which he was raised, and the extravagant self-revelations of a tormented underground soul. If Edmund Gosse's Father and Son is an exemplary instance of the first kind of tale, then The Book Against God encompasses, as one of its strands, an updated version of what Gosse calls 'the record of a struggle between two temperaments, two consciences, and almost two epochs.'"—Michael A. Bernstein, The Times Literary Supplement

"Intelligent , skeptical, occasionally tender in spite of itself, Wood's novelistic persona reminds one of Nick Hornby or A. N. Wilson—fellow Brits who straddle easily the sorrow and hilarity of the human condition."—The Boston Globe

"A thoughtful examination . . . Charming and witty and beautifully written . . . That Wood, a quick and marvellous portrayer of human ticks and gaffs, habits and appearances, cloaks this rich and rueful comedy in some of the most effectively detailed and hilarious character sketches in modern fiction merely adds to the novel's pleasure . . . Absolutely delightful."—Fredric Koeppel, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis)

"A deeply comic novel and a clever inversion of a conventional narrative . . . Well-written . . . One will most likely not be able to accuse James Wood of intellectually holding back ever again. His willingness in this debut novel to attack his own pieties, along with those of everyone else, suggests that he is as honest an artist as he is a critic, and that his next will be worth waiting for."—David Propson, The New Criterion

"It will come as no surprise to readers of literary critic Wood's brilliant essay collection, The Broken Estate (1999), that his first novel is a comedy of faith, given his fascination with the nexus between traditional religion and the modern sense of the sacred in art. Drawing on his British heritage, Wood presents Thomas Bunting, a would-be philosopher at odds with his village priest father's seemingly complacent Christianity. Tom is supposed to be completing his Ph.D. while his beautiful and forbearing pianist wife, Jane, supports them, but he is a self-indulgent laggard who hates to bathe and loves to tell lies, and instead of working on his dissertation, this doubting Thomas has been obsessed with a project he calls 'The Book Against God,' or 'BAG' for short, a long theological rant against the church. While this erstwhile atheist struggles through a prolonged crisis of faith, Wood proves himself to be a delectably witty writer. Sounding a bit like the Amis boys but with a civilizing touch of Barbara Pym, his dialogue is crisp and his characters irresistible while in his lush descriptions of everything from rain-drenched landscapes to Jane's expressive ponytail, every judiciously selected word carries emotional, moral, or spiritual weight."—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

James Wood was chief literary critic of The Guardian (London) and is senior editor at The New Republic. His first collection of essays, The Broken Estate, was published in 1999. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Read the full excerpt


  • James Wood

  • James Wood was chief literary critic of The Guardian (London) and is senior editor at The New Republic. He is the author of two collection of essays, The Broken Estate, and The Irresponsible Self. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • James Wood ©Miriam Berkley




Download PDF



Go to website


Sign Up


Reading Group Guide