36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Goldstein
|36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Goldstein|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Robert James|
|Summary: Hard work to plow through, this tale of an atheist writer achieving fame has flashes of promise and a couple of well-developed characters but never gets going properly.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 400||Date: March 2010|
|Publisher: Atlantic Books|
'Atheist with a Soul' Cass Seltzer has achieved sudden celebrity thanks to his new bestselling book. This has led to a job offer from Harvard, and he waits for his girlfriend to return, while thinking back on past experiences. Most of these experiences involved his old mentor Professor Klapper, an ex-lover, Roz Margolis, and a six year old genius mathematician Azarya. The characters frustrate and amuse in roughly equal measure, while the plot meanders towards a sort-of-conclusion as Cass debates the existence of God with Nobel laureate Felix Fidley.
The majority of this is, to be frank, agonizingly slow. The plot – such as it is – is told mainly in flashbacks from the present, to a time before Seltzer became successful. During that time, we get to see him become enamoured by the arrogant and vainglorious Klapper, who never rings remotely true as anything other than a spoof character, and far too much time is devoted to this pompous windbag. In the present, it builds towards Seltzer's debate, which never really seems particularly important.
On the plus side, we also get to meet Roz – vivacious and charming, obsessed with immortality, and formerly nicknamed A whole lot of woman by a remote Amazonian tribe she was studying – and Azarya, a sympathetic youngster whom we are introduced to as a six-year old prodigy but we then meet as a teenager faced with a tough decision to make. The scenes set in the New Walden community of Hasidic Jews where Azarya grows up are easily the best in the book, especially those where Roz realizes his potential. They're a pair of very likeable and interesting characters who I would have preferred to have seen in a better novel.
Opinions will no doubt vary on Goldstein's writing style. I personally found it deathly dull for the most part, and thought that much of the book seemed to consist of the author trying to show she was as clever as the people she was writing about. This may be true, but her style is no more interesting than Klapper's character is.
At the end of the main narrative, we get an appendix of the famed '36 Arguments for the Existence of God', and their rebuttals, which formed the main part of Seltzer's book. This is reasonably good reading – more so than the major part of the novel – but nothing special.
Overall, this is an extremely difficult book to like, although there are flashes of some very good stuff here – I particularly liked Cass trying to work out the benefits of telling Lucinda he loved her by drawing two-way tables, and some of the maths stuff such as the proof of there being no biggest prime number interested me. I can't in all conscience recommend it, though.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Further Reading: For literary fiction involving an academic, The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa is strongly recommended.
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You can read more book reviews or buy 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Goldstein at Amazon.com.
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