Book Of The Month June, 2008
Gods Behaving BadlyMarie Phillips
Being immortal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Life’s hard for a Greek god in the 21st century: nobody believes in you any more, even your own family doesn’t respect you, and you’re stuck in a delapidated hovel in north London with too many siblings and not enough hot water. But for Artemis (goddess of hunting, professional dog walker), Aphrodite (goddess of beauty, telephone sex operator) and Apollo (god of the sun, TV psychic) there’s no way out… Until a meek cleaner and her would-be boyfriend come into their lives, and turn the world literally upside down. Gods Behaving Badly is that rare thing, a charming, funny, utterly original first novel that satisfies the head and the heart.
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Marie Phillips on her book Gods Behaving Badly:
There’s an expression ‘a face only a mother could love’, a reminder that you are not always the best judge of your own children. The same goes with novels. After I signed the deal for my debut novel Gods Behaving Badly, my editor took me out to lunch and gently suggested that I never trouble him with any of the manuscripts I wrote before Gods. The thing is, I hadn’t told him that I’d ever written anything else before, and yet somehow he divined it. A wise man. Because indeed, lurking in the shoe boxes under my bed, there is a succession of novels that only an author could love.
The first novel I remember attempting to write was called Escape from Marmotville and was heavily influenced by Watership Down. I was ten and, impressed in equal measures by the Alpine marmots I saw on holiday in France and Richard Adams’s celebrated rabbit-related novel, I decided to write my own. The book was illustrated, which was ill-advised. I have never been able to draw and readers might have wondered what the toothy slugs in the pictures had to do with the text. Or, they might have, if I had written more than two chapters of the book. One to return to, perhaps.
I wrote my first complete novel when I was 13. It was a gothic tragicomedy entitled The Lone Bagpipe, inspired by a book found in the school library called
The Joy of Bagpipes, and now sadly out of print. (Of course, The Joy of Bagpipes, I mean. It will come as no surprise that The Lone Bagpipe was never actually in print.) My family still speak of it in fond terms though, and I have not ruled out recycling the chapter in which a key character was killed by a falling grouse.
The Lone Bagpipe was followed by puberty and Lady of Spain, an erotic novel composed age 15 in collaboration with two friends. It was the result of extensive book-based research as my erotic experiences at that point numbered nil. As I recall, I got the bit about the corkscrew method for women’s satisfaction from the problem page of More magazine, which I really should have put in the acknowledgements.
I didn’t embark on my first grown-up novel until I was 27. This one – The Talentless Miss Pidgeon – was as illstarred as its predecessors, though why
publishers wouldn’t leap on a story of a homicidal screenwriter who becomes possessed by her imaginary twin, based on Macbeth, I cannot fathom.
Gods Behaving Badly therefore, my alleged first novel, is actually my fourth and a half. One might ask, what was so special about Gods Behaving Badly that it managed to succeed where the others failed. One might answer, I haven’t a clue. It’s the story of Greek Gods living in modern-day London, doing a variety of day jobs such as professional dog walker (Artemis), telephone sex operator (Aphrodite), and TV psychic (Apollo), and whose mortal cleaner has to save the world from apocalypse, so I can’t claim to have learnt my lesson about choosing plausible storylines.
I suppose that sometimes, not only do you love your child’s face, but so do other people. I am delighted that the world has embraced my tale of marauding deities up to no good. But I still can’t help but wonder whether there is also room in their hearts for an exciting tale of intrepid marmots crossing the Alps in search of a new home, all lovingly hand-illustrated, of course.
As first published in newbooks – the magazine for readers and reading groups.