Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips; published 2007 by Little Brown and Company
Turns out, the classical Greek Olympian gods are not myths like we all supposed. They’re living in a dumpy little flat in London and trying to hold the world together even as their powers are weakening steadily.
When Apollo (god of Sun) refuses to heat up the shower water for Aphrodite (goddess of Beauty), she takes revenge on him by having her son, Eros (god of Love), shoot Apollo with an arrow, making him fall in love with the first person he sees: a small mortal named Alice. Alice is in love with a structural engineer named Neil. Alice loses her job and gets hired by the Olympus family as a cleaner. Without giving too much away, Alice and Neil get caught up in the lives of these immoral immortals and end up journeying to the underworld to save themselves, the world, and even the gods. It’s not a great plot, but it’s entertaining enough.
It’s pretty funny to see the legendary gods facing such human struggles as having to clean the kitchen and perform other duties they consider beneath them. But warning: this book is not PG. Despite the popularity of YA books like the Percy Jackson series, this is definitely a low fantasy for adults. It’s not graphic in any way (don’t start thinking romance novel), but adult subject matter is discussed.
Phillips also has some insightful things to say about human nature. For example, when Alice is in the underworld trying to decide how to spend the rest of eternity, a “counselor” suggests she get a job:
“…I can help you to find a job. Many people when they arrive, they do not wish to be in employment. They feel they have worked hard enough already. But I would not advise this. It is good to work. You have purpose. You meet people. You do not get depressed. Depression is a very bad thing in the underworld. many people are depressed here. It is a terrible thing. People become motionless. […] They may not move for many centuries, many thousands of years. They cannot see the point of moving. Because there is no point.” (191)
This truth seems to be an echo of wise King Solomon who said, “All is vanity.” In the world Phillips portrays, there is no point to anything because it simply leads to a mundane afterlife in which there is nothing to do but perhaps play board games or work. It is good to work because it makes people feel they have purpose. We know that especially now as unemployment is so high. However, Phillips’ view is decidedly pessimistic and against the God of Christianity. She even goes so far as to have her characters denounce Jesus as merely a platitude for weak minds. She does not see the purpose and truth that King Solomon offers at the end of Ecclesiastes:
“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut – when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low – they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets – before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.
“…The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear god and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecc. 12: 1-8, 13-14