We all remember the gods of Olympus, the band of 13 that we studied back in school, as these gorgeous, all-powerful, immortal creatures who ruled the earth from their mountaintop in Greece, with lots of muses and mortals worshipping them and offering up sacrifices in their names.
Now picture this same group of gods, living in squalor in a decaying flat in 21st-century London, their powers greatly reduced, and aging rapidly. This is the version of the Olympian gods that you'll meet in Gods Behaving Badly.
This novel, the debut work from Marie Phillips, is a rawther clever re-imagining of the Greek gods. Artemis, goddess of the hunt, works as a dog walker. Apollo, god of the sun, is attempting to earn a living as a TV psychic. Aphrodite, goddess of beauty, works as a phone sex operator. Dionysus, god of wine, has his own club, where the only alcohol sold is his extraordinarily potent wine. Eros, god of love, is now following the teachings of Jesus. There are many more re-imaginings of the gods in this novel, all just as clever as the ones I've just described.
Our story opens in London, where the former Olympians are now living in a filthy, rat-infested flat, and have been since they were banished from Olympus in 1665. Everyone is miserable in their surroundings. No one will listen to Athena's ideas for re-establishing themselves. Even though she is the goddess of wisdom, she is a poor communicator, no matter how many PowerPoint presentations she makes for her family. Demeter, goddess of the earth, is unable to make her garden grow. Artemis, the de facto leader of the household, wants out, but at the same time, recognizes the need to keep order within the chaos.
Enter Alice, a mortal who stops by the gods' flat one day, seeking a cleaning job. Artemis hires her, but gives her a three-page laminated list of rules that she must follow in order to keep her job. Among the rules: only speak when you're spoken to. This is no problem for Alice, who is very shy and introverted.
Then she meets Apollo, who falls in love with her--to the point of obsession--and the chaos soon begins. It all started out as a quarrel between he and Aphrodite, who gets Eros to intervene, and pretty soon, the situation escalates. The gods now find themselves in a battle for the survival of not just themselves, but for all humanity.
Marie Phillips took a big risk when she wrote this novel. It was a clever concept that she devised--imagining what the gods of Olympus would be like if they lived in our modern era--and in the wrong hands, this concept could have failed tremendously. However, she makes it work, and along the way, raises some pointed questions about humanity, faith, and belief. Why do humans believe what they believe? What happens when faith is lost? Is immortality all that it's cracked up to be?
Quite honestly, when I first read the summary at the back of this book, I was expecting it to be a lot more laugh-out-loud funny. There are some places where you will laugh, but even in the absence of gaffaws, there is an undercurrent of wit that readers can appreciate. You'll appreciate it even more, kittens, if you do a little research on the Greek gods either before or after you read; then you can see that Phillips really did her homework on this one.
In fact, go to Greekmythology.com and become a geek about your Greeks! (Sorry, had to throw that one in!)
This is the latest entry in my 2009 100+ Reading Challenge and my 2009 Read Your Own Books Challenge. Click on the buttons in the sidebar for all of the archived lists!