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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Inventing God

Nicholas Mosley

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To purchase Inventing God

Title: Inventing God
Author: Nicholas Mosley
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003
Length: 296 pages
Availability: Inventing God - US
Inventing God - UK
Inventing God - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : only moderately successful examination of contemporary civilization and the place (and need) for faith in it

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Mail . 17/1/2003 Michael Arditti
Daily Telegraph . 11/1/2003 David Flusfeder
The Guardian . 18/1/2003 James Buchan
The Independent . 21/12/2002 Karen Armstrong
New Humanist D Spring/2003 Jeremy Stangroom
The Observer A+ 12/1/2003 Martin Bright
The Spectator . 4/1/2003 Robert Edric
Sunday Telegraph . 19/1/2003 David Robson
The Times . 22/1/2003 Anthea Lawson
TLS . 10/1/2003 Robert Irwin
The Village Voice . 26/8/2003 Heidi Julavits

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus. Many impressed with it as a novel-of-ideas, fewer impressed with it as a novel.

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is not a book for readers who require psychological complexity, since Mosley's characters are essentially ciphers, but it is highly recommended to anyone open to work of genuine moral and philosophical depth." - Michael Arditti, Daily Mail

  • "Inventing God is, for much of its way, fascinating and timely. It ends on September 11, 2001, and is published as we nervously wait for the next cataclysm. But this particular novel of ideas itself lacks the shock value (Houellebecq) or the satire (Swift) or the psychological precision (James) or the sheer dazzle (Cortazar or Calvino) with which a reader may engage for the length of a book." - David Flusfeder, Daily Telegraph

  • "(H)e sets his book in the Middle East, prolific inventor of religions but not, at its present epoch, of peace, public order, liberty or happiness. In the novel there are suicide bombers, satellite surveillance, weapons of mass destruction and UN inspectors, but Mosley's Middle East is not truly a modern topography. It is a sort of academy or grove for the airing of religious and philosophical questions." - James Buchan, The Guardian

  • "Inventing God is a fascinating and moving essay in theology, though it does not really succeed as a work of fiction. The characters are wooden and seem little more than ciphers in Mosley's play of ideas. But it is hard to imagine ideas that are more important to explore at this time of sectarian dogmatism and hatred." - Karen Armstrong, The Independent

  • "The characters, who are assorted scientists, philosophers, anthropologists, theologians and mystics, spend their time ruminating on the nature of God, morality, freedom, religious tolerance and sexual politics. The trouble is that they seem to have so few good ideas between them. (...) Part of the difficulty with Mosley’s book is that his characters are mostly so dim-witted that even when they have moments of lucidity one cannot take them seriously." - Jeremy Stangroom, New Humanist

  • "He examines the three historical paths taken towards the betterment of the human condition -- politics, religion and science -- and finds a void at the heart of each. It is rare to encounter a novel so unremittingly serious-minded and fearlessly intellectual in its concerns. (...) Inventing God is an astonishing piece of work with the potential to shift the very way we view the world: surely a contender for the first great novel of the twenty-first century." - Martin Bright, The Observer

  • "Inventing God is an unfashionable, unpredictable novel in which the characters and their interactions are wholly dependent on and sustained by the exploration of the ideas at their centre. This might today sound at once like faint praise and ungracious criticism, but Inventing God is that rare thing among modern novels -- one that will either engage and enthrall, or one that will infuriate and alienate its readers depending on how far they allow themselves to be drawn into its seductive and labyrinthine complexities." - Robert Edric, The Spectator

  • "As the plot thickens, and other characters are brought into play, their lives intersecting at various points, the narrative becomes quite disjointed: it is not always clear where one is or why. But individual scenes are well crafted and, thematically, the novel is challenging throughout. It looks beyond the simplicities of politics, the unthinking expression of tribal loyalties, and examines some of the deepest mainsprings of human behaviour." - David Robson, Sunday Telegraph

  • "With Mosley's usual bunch of intelligent questioners there is great potential for discussing science, religion and politics, the rise of fundamentalism and the taking of responsibility. Unfortunately, it feels as if discussion is all that happens. Mosley sets out some fabulous and provoking ideas, but presented as they are via endless debate between unconvincing characters, with something of a story rather clumsily woven in, it is hard to appreciate their impact." - Anthea Lawson, The Times

  • "In Nicholas Mosley's novel, storytelling yields first place to philosophical ruminations in the interrogative mode. (...) What is at stake in this book is nothing less than the future of humanity in the modern world, yet, in the context of what purports to be a novel, such an important stake seems curiously unexciting. (...) In the end, the lack of detail not only damages the book's status as a novel, but also undermines its effectiveness as a didactic treatise" - Robert Irwin, Times Literary Supplement

  • "What smart reader could want for more ? Erudition plus a tense religious/political backdrop—the Middle East, just pre-9-11—and a missing professor with a secret that may advance biological warfare to its hideous genocidal conclusion make Inventing God a learned, engrossing read." - Heidi Julavits, The Village Voice

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:

       Inventing God comes with two epigraphs -- the predictable Voltairean one ("If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him"), which is also mentioned and discussed several times in the novel itself, and a definition of the word invent from the New Shorter OED ("Find out, discover, esp. by search or endeavour. Now rare or obs."). In his novel Nicholas Mosley considers the need -- and possibility -- of such god-invention in these troubled contemporary times.
       Mosley follows the lives of a considerable number of characters, most of whom eventually cross paths or at least affect one another; however, he tends only to bring very few of them together at a time in the (short) chapters of the novel. The locales are England and the greater Middle East, and religion and genetics both figure prominently in the story. Several of the characters are academics: anthropologist Dr Richard Kahn (who teaches at the American University in Beirut), for example, and biologist Carl Andros (who teaches in London). Several are young women, such as sixteen-year-old Israeli Lisa and anorexic English Maisie. A prominent and distant figure is that of Maurice Rotblatt, who disappeared years earlier and about whom (and about whose disappearance) many stories circulate.
       Times are troubled, especially in the Middle East. One of the projects being worked on is a biological weapon based on possible genetic differences between ethnic groups -- which might make possible a lethal virus "which would affect some ethnic groups while leaving others untouched." There's also considerable archaeological digging, and a variety of philosophical and theological speculation. There are attempts by characters to free themselves of religion, friends, and family -- or at least to get sufficient distance for a time. There's a bit of sex and longing (both homo- and hetero-sexual), and at least one significant birth.
       The end is full of hope, a biblical scene: "I mean people will see that it is right !" a character thinks -- though it's hard to be convinced by Mosley's too simple summing up (and it is indicative of its weakness that a character has to insist on the scene being convincing -- making it anything but). But Mosley manages something of a clever twist with what's playing on the television nearby -- "Some event. Some terror" is all they know, and Mosley doesn't go on to describe them actually seeing it (but it's clearly the events of 11 September 2001).
       What is playing on television, and what they come to see after the novel comes to an end is something: "That might change the way people see things." But Mosley isn't persuasive in his new-day-dawning conclusion -- not any way one reads it. Writing after the events of September 2001, Mosley oddly doesn't use the geo-political (and other) shifts and rifts of the time since very effectively. In part perhaps because they are too close; indeed, since the original publication of the books some events have also overtaken Mosley's fiction.

       Mosley writes in his familiar style: the novel is dialogue-heavy (with little embellishment to the dialogue-pieces -- much of the book reads like a play-script) and explores philosophical and theological questions. There's also some action, lots of travel, a few dangerous spots and occurrences, and an air of mystery. The relationships aren't all convincing -- perhaps also largely because Mosley can't take the time to develop or describe any in much detail, as he constantly tosses his characters around between each other (a constant mixing of characters that gets confusing and annoying). There are some intriguing ideas -- the ridiculous biological weapon (the science of which Mosley properly emphasises is highly dubious), for example, and the biblical exegesis.
       The book reads quite well and quickly, and there's enough food for thought. Still, it's not entirely satisfying -- neither consistently gripping enough as a story, nor convincing in its conclusions.

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Inventing God: Reviews: Nicholas Mosley: Other books by Nicholas Mosley under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Nicholas Mosley lived 1923 to 2017.

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© 2003-2021 the complete review

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