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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Gods Behaving Badly

Marie Phillips

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Gods Behaving Badly

Title: Gods Behaving Badly
Author: Marie Phillips
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007
Length: 291 pages
Availability: Gods Behaving Badly - US
Gods Behaving Badly - UK
Gods Behaving Badly - Canada
Gods Behaving Badly - India
Les dieux ne valent pas mieux ! - France
Götter ohne Manieren - Deutschland
Per l'amor di un Dio - Italia
  • Gods Behaving Badly is being made into a movie, due to be released in 2012, directed by Marc Turtletaub, and starring John Turturro, Christopher Walken, Alicia Silverstone, and Sharon Stone

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good fun, fairly well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 4/8/2007 James Urquhart
The Guardian . 4/8/2007 Catherine Taylor
The Independent A- 20/7/2007 Lisa Gee
The NY Times . 6/12/2007 Janet Maslin
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/1/2008 Alexandra Jacobs
The Observer A 29/7/2007 Francesca Segal
San Francisco Chronicle A 16/12/2007 Irene Wanner
Scotland on Sunday A 22/7/2007 Stuart Kelly
The Spectator . 8/9/2007 Molly Guinness
Sunday Times . 26/8/2007 Nick Rennison
The Telegraph B+ 9/8/2007 Elena Seymenliyska
The Times A 21/7/2007 Bettany Hughes
TLS . 10/8/2007 Mary Beard
The Washington Post . 16/12/2007 Ron Charles

  Review Consensus:

  Very good, a lot of fun

  From the Reviews:
  • "Witty and entertaining, Gods Behaving Badly is an auspicious debut that outrageously libels the classical pantheon." - James Urquhart, Financial Times

  • " (I)ngeniously imagined and satisfyingly lusty. (…) This swaggering caper follows a dark course and while the scenes between the humans appear sentimentally trite, the spoilt-brat antics of their other-worldly counterparts are vastly entertaining." - Catherine Taylor, The Guardian

  • "Marie Phillips's first novel is a joyful frolic around a simple and funny conceit. (…) It is all very, very funny and, although the admin areas of this Underworld have a faint whiff of Will Self's Dulston, delightfully original as well as acutely clever in a makes-you-think-about-contemporary-morality-without-realising kind of way." - Lisa Gee, The Independent

  • "(A) story so conventionally structured that it suggests the help of fiction-writing software (.....) (T)he novel's sense of humor goes from fluffy to nonexistant, but it always manages to come back again. Gods Behaving Badly is much more fun than it has any right to be." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

  • "It's like Hesiod's Theogony meets MTV’s Real World. (..) As it traces Neil and Alice’s sweet and predictable little love plot, Phillips’s novel sometimes threatens to descend as well, into something like bathos. But for the most part her nonchalant transposition of the ancients into post-postmodern life is seamless, amusing and blessedly unpretentious. It may not be ambrosia, but it’s some pretty good trail mix." - Alexandra Jacobs, The New York Times Book Review

  • "It is a significant challenge for a novel to live up to a clever concept, even more so when the novelist in question has been feted for months as the Next Big Thing, the toast of last year's Frankfurt Book Fair after she was discovered, working in an independent bookshop, by a Waterstone's buyer. But in the case of Marie Phillips, it is deserving of the hype. She has done a spectacular job -- funny and unpretentious, witty and readable, Gods Behaving Badly lives up to all its potential." - Francesca Segal, The Observer

  • "God Behaving Badly is peppered with these far-too-convenient coincidences, which are all the more amusing since most of them have been instigated by the petty, squabbling Olympians behind each others' backs. The result of all this truculent childishness is a fast-paced, slapstick story that also manages to illuminate some bittersweet benefits and drawbacks to both sides of the immortality issue, as the plot yaws from a send-up of Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy in Oz to a new twist on the tragic early Hellenic myths of Orpheus and Eurydice." - Irene Wanner, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "(A)bsolutely delightful (...) Part of the charm is in the juxtapositions -- the gods are arrogant yet naïve, foul-mouthed but innocent, powerful but pointless. (...)There's enough mordant tang to keep it from becoming just silly, and, at moments, a frisson of real horror" - Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday

  • "The necessary mythology is filled in rapidly and casually in conversation, so it doesn’t matter how much or little the reader knows about the Greek gods; knowledge will only confirm that Phillips has captured their childish irresponsibility perfectly while amusing her readers with an unlikely successor to Hercules and a touching human love story while she’s about it." - Molly Guinness, The Spectator

  • "Phillips’s whimsical fantasy has much charm but little bite. If anything, her gods just don’t behave badly enough. Beneath the comedy of ancient deities let loose in the modern world lurks a cosiness about human love and relationships that, at odds with the profoundly unsentimental myths she is reworking, would have been laughed off Olympus in the good old days." - Nick Rennison, Sunday Times

  • "(W)hile this is undoubtedly good, old-fashioned page-turning fun, once the covers are closed, you might struggle to remember what all the fuss was about." - Elena Seymenliyska, The Telegraph

  • "It sounds as if the device would tire, but it is all very, very funny. (...) The cleverness is that Phillips does with Zeus, Aphrodite, Apollo et al precisely what the Greeks did with them. They become many-times-magnified versions of us. Immortals were all about the trouble with mortality, after all." - Bettany Hughes, The Times

  • "Lucian knew the virtue of brevity (...). By the end of nearly 300 pages in Gods Behaving Badly, the jokes are not working as freshly or unexpectedly as they did at the start, but in many respects Marie Phillips is an amusing match for the ancient satirist." - Mary Beard, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The tension doesn't ratchet too high; it's a romantic comedy, after all. The key is to fly through a book like this very fast -- on Hermes' wings. But Phillips has an Olympian sense of absurdity, and there's enough ambrosial wit here to seduce most mortals for an afternoon or two on the divan." - Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Gods Behaving Badly finds a motley crew of Olympians living together in considerable squalor in London, in a house they haven't maintained too well since they moved in back in 1665. With what little powers they have left they are like old royalty, full of themselves but barely scraping by. Artemis earns some money walking dogs, Aphrodite is doing phone sex, Eros has been born-again, and Dionysus runs a nightclub "in a basement down a poorly-lit side street, popular with prostitutes and junkies, somewhere between Euston and King's Cross", the Bacchanalia.
       Ah, yes:

Things had all been so much easier in the years that they were now obliged to refer to as BC.
       Apollo gets a TV gig, and already sees a future as a TV-psychic for himself, but that too doesn't go as well as hoped for either. On top of it, Aphrodite plays a mean trick on him, getting Eros to use his powers to have him fall in love with the next person he sees in the middle of the show.
       Parallel runs the story of the very average (and mortal) Alice and Neil. They're in love but hardly dare admit it, and so far their relationship has proceeded very innocently. But then Alice, a cleaner at the TV studio, sneaks herself and Neil onto the set for the taping of Apollo's show, which has more consequences than she could have dreamed of.
       Sacked from her job, Alice winds up knocking on the door of the one home that could really use her services, and though the gods aren't big on having mortals about Artemis decides in this case it would be worthwhile. Indeed, Alice should come daily:
     "We can't afford that," said Aphrodite.
     "Yes we can," said Artemis. "We'll just have to stop buying food."
     "But I like food," whined Aphrodite.
     "Too bad," said Artemis. "It's not a necessity. Having a cleaner is."
       Well, as someone points out: "They say cleanliness is next to godliness", though in the Olympian household they were certainly in no close proximity for many, many centuries.
       Alice and Neil both have their doubts about her new job (though Alice: "tried not to judge them: they were Greek after all, and all families had their own ways"), and inevitably the mortal presence in the household causes problems. Someone gets killed, the sun gets extinguished, and while setting things (more or less) right wouldn't have been much of a problem in the good old days, with their diminished powers the gods have the darnedest time dealing with all of this and the fate of the earth and all of mankind is up in the air for a while there. Fortunately, a mortal is there to help and assume the hero-role.
       Phillips has and offers good fun with her down-and-almost-out gods, even if she doesn't make nearly enough of the rich material -- all the more disappointing as she does display a nice, light touch with much of what she does imagine for the deities. Alice and Neil are a rather bland and simple mortal couple, though their innocence is an appropriate contrast to the (mostly very) decadent gods. The breezy narrative moves well, making for an enjoyable read, but it does all wind up feeling feel a bit too shallow, Phillips taking the easy way out a few times too often, as well as not taking her great premise anywhere near as far as she could have. (Her simplified approach is typified by the scene where the sun goes out -- as in reality (well, you know ...) there would be a time-delay of several minutes before that became apparent on earth, something she doesn't note (or make use of).)
       Quite well-written and certainly amusing, Gods Behaving Badly is worthwhile -- though nowhere near as much fun (or, for that matter, powerful) as it might have been.

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Gods Behaving Badly: Reviews: Gods Behaving Badly - the movie: Marie Phillips: Other books of interest under review:
  • Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next-series, starting with The Eyre Affair
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction
  • See Index of books dealing with Religion

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About the Author:

       British author Marie Phillips graduated from Cambridge University.

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© 2007-2011 the complete review

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