Summary: Greek mythology is alive and well in modern day London. That is to say that Artemis, Aphrodite, Apollo and gang share an apartment, fight incessantly, and ruin the lives of mortals despite the fact that no one believes in them anymore. With the belief of them dying, the gods are struggling to stay alive anyway they can, or face a three-headed dog and their relative Hades if they can’t.
Back in June, The Atlantic Magazine started a book club called 1book140 on twitter, with the aim to be the largest online book club. This idea stemmed from a summer book club that founder Jeff Howe had put together where everyone read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’m kicking myself for missing that one! They currently have 38,000 members and are still growing. One of the perks of 1book140 is that it doesn’t take up a lot of time, especially considering you’re reading the book over the course of a month. Plus you get to interact (or not, you don’t have to) with other readers and see what they’re saying through twitter hashtags. Or not, you can just be a hermit and read. Alone. With all your cats.
This is the second 1book140 book club I have participated in, the first one being geared toward Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. Trust me, this book was a hell of a lot more uplifting, and it focused on something I love: GREEK FUCKING MYTHOLOGY!
As with the mythological pantheon of the gods, this novel is FULL of an intriguing and at times a hard to keep track of cast of characters. The three main characters are Artemis, the god of hunting, chastity and the moon (two of which are out of style), her brother Apollo who is in charge of the sun and has a failed network television show called “Apollo’s Oracle”, and Aphrodite, the goddess of love who runs a phone sex hot line and has sex with everyone and their mother. For serious.
Other lesser but also prevalent main characters include Athena, the goddess of wisdom who is currently researching time travel, Hephaestus (Heppy for short) who is married to Aphrodite and is the god of smiths, god of war Ares (half brother and roommate to Apollo and preferred lover of Aphrodite), Dionysus who is a DJ/lush/owner of the night club Bacchanalia, Aphrodite’s son Eros, a charity volunteer who found Jesus, and Hermes who is the god of coincidences as well as a yuppie messenger who believes “time is money”. He also transports souls to the entrance of the underworld and does “everything nobody else wants to do”. The last of the London dwelling gods is Demeter, the goddess of earth and fertility.
Finally, there are the gods on the periphery such as Persephone, Hades, and Poseidon who don’t live in London with the others, and Hera and Zeus who live in the attic and we don’t encounter until halfway through the novel. Zeus is kind of a deranged Santa Claus who is guarded by his wife Hera and their pet peacocks (kind of like Lucius Malfoy). I am under the assumption that he doesn’t wear pants. All in all he’s pretty damn awesome (Zeus, not Lucius).
The novel is written with a noticeable dry British humour, referencing the famous Helen of Troy as “Helen of the ship-launching face”. For a full sense of the British humour found within one only needs to read the following line, “He was shocked and upset that anyone would let such a wonderful building get into such a state of disrepair. He had experienced a similar feeling only last week, looking at a recent photograph of Brigitte Bardot”.
There is also a theme of absurdity running throughout, from the plot to the details, such as the fact that every god shares one bathroom in their apartment, made even more ridiculous by the fact that Aphrodite is always having sex with people in it.
This humour especially comes through when we meet the mortals Alice (the god’s cleaning lady) and her love interest Neil (an engineer), both of whom are strangely unaware that Apollo, Artemis and Aphrodite are gods. How the names aren’t even a give away is beyond me. I suppose one would not expect Greek gods to be real and living in a run down flat in London and walking dogs for extra money.
The most exciting point in the novel comes when Artemis and Neil enter the underworld. This is the most intriguing sphere we inhabit and it doesn’t seem such a bad place as far as death goes. Souls are transported there (as mentioned above) by Hermes on his scooter. They travel to the Underworld through the London Underground to a place guarded by the three headed dog Cerberus. When the time is right the dead soul will come upon a building that houses an employment office of sorts headed by other souls. One could choose to not have an occupation but one is recommended to pass the time. And let me tell you, the jobs in the afterlife are a hell of a lot more fun than they are while alive.
One such job that Phillips writes about is housed in the entertainment complex in the 2oth century gaming district. Here, all manner of board games are housed in pubs reminiscent of that game’s era. For example, Scrabble is played in a 40’s era pub and Boggle is played in a 70’s underground punk bar. However, the bar doesn’t serve alcohol, but rather Lethe, which is water from a river which helps you forget your past life. So it’s not all sunshine and board games, but at least you don’t have to fear the reaper.
-Like a fractured fairy tale but with Greek mythology!
-Full of a fun and interesting cast of characters, I would totes drink with them
-Very British humour, if “Fawlty Towers” and “The Misfits” had a baby
-Light, easy read, gateway drug to the book club that is 1book140
-Side plot of dying gods not so prevalent, which makes its importance at the end confusing
-The ending is super sappy and makes me wish it had just been left out, NOT EVERYTHING NEEDS AN EPILOGUE ::JK Rowling glare::
I highly recommend this amusing look into the lives of the Greek gods, even if they are a little less respected and a little rough around the edges. But that’s what makes them so fun. They’re like Old Testament God, who everyone prefers to that stuffy, boring goody two shoes Jesus guy.