Gods Behaving Badly
Author: Marie Phillips
Original Publication: 2007
Genre: Fiction, Satire
This novel begs – and answers – the question “What if all of the Greek Gods were alive today?” Combining what we know of the Greek Gods and modern society, a hilariously entertaining world is created where the Gods of Olympus live together in London in a filthy, dilapidated old house, and work day jobs to pay their rent. Artemis (Goddess of the Hunt) is a dog walker, Apollo (God of the Sun) is a television psychic, Aphrodite (Goddess of Love & Beauty) is a phone sex operator, Dionysus (God of Wine and Merriment) owns a nightclub, and Eros (God of Love) has converted to Christianity, much to the chagrin of his family. Along with a withered and dying Zeus, Hera, Athena, Demeter, Hermes, and Hades, the Gods find themselves losing their powers and showing signs of aging as humankind believes in them less and less. But how to get mortals to believe in them again so that they can regain their power?
All proper myths dictate that there must be a hero. Enter Neil, who arrives by way of Alice, a mousy woman who has been fired from her job and offers her house cleaning services door to door. Artemis, fed up with the filthy condition of the house, hires her on the spot. Alice lost her janitorial job at the television station due to an unfortunate incident where she snuck Neil, a nerdy engineer who is quietly in love with her, into the studio to watch a live filming of Apollo’s psychic television show. Even though forbidden, this may not have been a problem except that Aphrodite, furious with Apollo for failing to use his powers to heat her shower water, has conned Eros into shooting Apollo with an arrow of unrequited love, whereupon he will fall madly in love with the first woman he sees, and she will detest him in return. The first woman he sees is Alice, in his TV audience, and chaos ensues. Upon being hired as a housekeeper, Alice recognizes Apollo as the man who behaved so strangely toward her in the studio, but is too polite to say anything. Apollo, of course, is delighted.
Neil and Alice find themselves in a comedy of errors, of sorts, caught between the Gods and all of their bickering and backstabbing. Apollo decides that since Alice does not love him back, the only way to preserve his dignity is to kill her. Neil quite rightly takes offense to this and knocks Apollo unconscious in a confrontation, which causes the sun to go out. As the world spins into an apocalyptic panic, Neil must journey into the underworld to retrieve Alice, and the Gods must find a way to restore Apollo – he is so weak now that he is unable to regain consciousness without a fast infusion of power – which can only come from a huge influx of human belief in him. Unless Apollo can be restored, and the sun with him, life on earth will cease to exist.
I really enjoyed this book; particularly because in modern times, religion is largely mutually exclusive. Believing in Christianity, for example, dictates that you also believe that all other religions are wrong. The Greeks no longer figure into the equation as it is an antiquated belief system, but the book presents the idea “What if the Greeks were the ones who had it right in the first place?” The most fascinating aspect of the Greek Gods, for me, is that they are all flawed – ergo, more human. Gods with problems are a lot more personally relatable than perfect beings, no matter what you believe. The love story between Alice and Neil parallels Orpheus and Eurydice, which was also lots of fun. All in all, this was a very satisfying light read.
Fun Fact: The author, Marie Phillips, is in her early thirties and is the daughter of Nicholas Addison Phillips, Baron Phillips of Worth Matravers, the President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
Bother If: You’re a lover of Greek mythology. The Gods are pretty wonderfully brought to life in this story, and it’s well-told. I thought that it was really engaging and creative, and unlike anything else I’ve read in a long while. It was also very funny.
Don’t Bother If: You’re offended by the idea of polytheism – belief in and worship of many Gods as opposed to one – or are offended by the idea that God (or Gods) only exist as conscious manifestations – that is; if humankind largely ceased to believe in God(s), God would cease to exist. Also contains some sex and coarse language.