I was nervous approaching this book. One, because my lovely friend Heidi James gave it to me (who, by the way has a great blog, click on her name for a read) and so I wanted to like it and two, because anything that comes with the endorsement ‘one of the funniest writers in the business’ (Daily Telegraph) worries me – I worry I have no sense of humour. However, I did chortle out loud when reading and I enjoyed the book. Phews all round.
The protagonist, Tyndale, has lost everything: his job, his wife, his home, his health. He does still have friends though, and one of them suggests Tyndale borrows his passport and goes to Miami to a sales conference on his behalf. As Tyndale has nothing else to do and it would mean free board, free food and some sunshine, he agrees. He goes to Miami, milks the conference and company credit card for what they’re worth and decides to stay in Miami and become God. Surely he could make money without doing a great deal, without having any credentials, simply by persuading others of his divinity? He’s going to give it a go and he gets another friend to hook him up with a contact and lodgings.
The significance of his name is not lost on me. This Tyndale, despite never reading the scriptures, is doing his best to translate religion into the modern vernacular. This truly is a religion with all the money-grabbing, power-wielding warts. But the trouble is, Tyndale’s observations of the world are too starkly real –
Our earthly time is mostly a battle to conceal. To conceal our odours, our disappointing features. There’s the physical and then there’s the spiritual, striving to hide the greed, the hate, the weakness. Civilization is spiritual clothing. It’s a pretence that we are better than we are, spiritual garb, spiritual aftershave. (p197)
– and his heart too good (he prays for everyone, he tries to do good things for the people around him, he sees miracles in sandwiches) for him to ever succeed in the religion business. His cynicism is a veneer. He can’t help believing in something beyond himself, and in the idea of a designed world, a world in which his place has impact, a world in which events aren’t random but have meaning. So even though he doesn’t become recognised as God, he does believe that he has a hand in bringing down two illegal organisations (read it and see).
Despite the failure of his supposed mission, his time in Miami does take him somewhere and does win him believers in his worth as a person, if not a god. And although this should be heartening, I was depressed by the world reflected in Good to Be God. Yes, I laughed but, and this is probably why I worry about reading funny books, I can’t get all the bad stuff out of my head: the cheating, the idiocy, the disappointment, the idea that ‘laziness always wins’ (p19). At least women get a good press for being able to handle life when it doesn’t go their way.
Even though this is a male mid-life crisis book, which would usually have me ranting about the predominance of venerated male voices harping on about their problems in a way that no other person should have to listen to, for once it actually stands up as a modern world life crisis book that is both funny and sad. If you like funny books that bemoan the modern world whilst maintaining a strange grain of hope, you will love Good to Be God.
I was meant to be reading Light next, but somehow it’s got lost so instead I’m reading The Odd Women by George Gissing and will hope to find Light in the meantime!