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The Godless Boys - Book of the Month

by Naomi Wood

Islands and their association with romance, isolation and exile have long since been a natural draw for writers. Debut novelist Naomi Wood evokes all of these emotions and more to dramatic and original effect via the island setting of her stunning THE GODLESS BOYS, a novel about faith and the lack of it, with side helpings of teenaged rebellion and an unfolding love story.

Her ‘Island’ is in unnamed fictional one located off England’s north-east coast, her ‘Islanders’ a group of radical secularists who have been expelled from the English mainland after a war (starting in the 1950s) between them and the church. But, 36 years since these original expulsions, while the mainland has toned down, but not renounced, its godly ways, religion is still outlawed on the Island. Step up the Godless Boys of the book’s title, a gang of dandyish teenaged vigilantes ¬who roam the Island’s paths and cliff tops in order to punish any Islander who dares to flout the community’s secular mores.

What is particularly effective about Wood’s novel is her presentation of a community on the brink to subtly explore the tensions of the modern world between religious dogma and atheistic zeal. Wood is equally subtle in the ‘other-worldly’ atmosphere she creates throughout the book, via a trio of literary techniques: deftly named protagonists whose names have a Victorian ring to them (Eliza Michanka and Arthur Stansky to name but two); a peculiar argot crammed with ‘doxies’ and ‘crabbings’; as well as the not quite modern, not quite old-fashioned clothing of the islanders. All these, plus the evocative human story of the ‘what-if’ scenario, are reminiscent of the speculative fiction popularised by Kazuo Ishiguro’s NEVER LET ME GO, and make for a world not too far from our own, but far enough away to be satisfyingly intriguing.

The author does not give the reader too many clues as to her own faith or lack thereof (neither the believers or non-believers in the story come out well), yet the central premise of thinking about the dangers entrenched in both religious and non-religious systems is a thought-provoking one. An ensemble piece, THE GODLESS BOYS is a wonderfully original book, whose individual voices sing out to their own tunes, each one bringing a different musical note to the collective literary choir – a tune of which this reviewer would certainly like to hear more.

Nina de la Mer

Published by Picador - 357pp

Read our interview with Naomi Wood.

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