The Godless Boys by Naomi Wood

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The Godless Boys by Naomi Wood

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Interesting dystopian novel about love and faith, set in the near past rather than the near future. A thoughtful debut and an author to look out for in the future.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 0330530127

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Britain. 1986.

The country became a theocracy during the 1950s and since then outbreaks of secular terrorism have been dealt with by exile. The atheists have been sent to the Island where they can burn churches as they please. Aside from a weekly boat bringing donated supplies, the exiled must shift as best they can on a remote snippet of land in the North Sea.

It's a lonely place and particularly lonely for the young. And so Nathaniel's gang of adolescent boys feed on the hatred for religion that brought their parents to the Island and they patrol its streets, looking for potential believers or English spies, ready to give them a good hazing. The violence of their attacks is escalating too. And then an English girl arrives, a stowaway on the benificence boat. Sarah is searching for her mother who disappeared ten years before and who may have been on the last exile transport to the Island.

Is her mother there? And what will the gang make of her?

This is not a perfect book - readers will see the climax coming from a mile off and I wasn't convinced by much of the dialogue, in particular the way the Island seems to have evolved its own accent in just a few decades. Or are we to believe that all of Britain's secular heretics hailed from Newcastle? Or Scotland?

Other than this, though, I really did enjoy The Godless Boys. I loved the near past setting, which resonated for me in a way near future dystopias often don't. Nathaniel's gang, the Malades, shave their heads, wear boots, press their shirts, and hold their trousers up with red braces. They are very like the 1980s skinheads I crossed the road to avoid when I was a teenager and so I truly identified with the menace these adolescents represented, even when, without the uniform, at the core they are simply lonely and loveless teenage boys.

There's some lovely writing in the descriptive passages - the Island is without livestock and the churchified mainland won't send them meat, so the exiles live on a diet of fish and potatoes. It's a dour life and a dour landscape and these things have made the people dour. It's difficult to feel heroic in your resistance to organied religion when your life is so dogged - and it's easy to see why Nathaniel and his gang rebel against this as they bully and harass suspected "gots". The picture Wood drew of Nathaniel's Mammy - grief-stricken, agoraphobic and afraid to confront the truth about her son - was truthful and unutterably sad.

Can we live without faith? Or love? I consider my own atheism incorrigble but I fear the answer to both questions is no.

This is a thoughtful debut and author to look out for in the future.

My thanks to the good people at Picador for sending the book.

If dystopian fiction is your thing, you might also enjoy The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall - brooding and atmospheric, its main focus is gender. For something offering some optimism in this usually miserable genre, we think The Pesthouse by Jim Crace is absolutely celebratory.

Buy The Godless Boys by Naomi Wood at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Godless Boys by Naomi Wood at

Buy The Godless Boys by Naomi Wood at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Godless Boys by Naomi Wood at


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