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Book Review: Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

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The ancient Greeks gods are real, immortal and all living together in a run-down house in London: such is the premise of Marie Phillips’ novel Gods Behaving Badly. Why are Greek gods living in London, you might ask? Well, that is never really explained, but it probably has less to do with the plot and more with the fact that author lives in London herself and couldn’t be bothered to look up a Google map of Athens.

The house in question, being four hundred years old, is quite literally starting to fall apart at the seams and this prompts Artemis to hire a mortal cleaning woman named Alice. This starts the plot rolling when Aphrodite, to break up the boredom, tricks Apollo into falling in love with the Alice, setting off a chain of events that threaten to destroy the world. I couldn’t help but think that given the fact that Aphrodite has done this sort of thing to Apollo before, you wonder why he doesn’t recognize the signs.

While loosely a novel about the entire Greek pantheon, it centers primarily only on three of them and Phillips’s take on them isn’t particularly novel. Aphrodite is a conniving bitch, Apollo is an egotistical bore and Artemis is a dog walker. Some of the other gods are mentioned and introduced, but they only pop up when then plot calls for it. Hermes and Zeus especially are nothing more than walking exposition and a plot point, respectively. It is a shame since the club owning Dionysus and the spoiled Persephone had potential and some of the funnier aspects of the Gods Behaving Badly are Eros’s conversion to Christianity or Ares causing everyone to bicker every time he walks into a room. Alice and Neil, the two human characters of the book aren’t fleshed out much better, though their platonic courtship in the beginning is sweet, if rather flat.

Why the gods are in such dire straights isn’t really explained either, since many of the gods, notably Dionysus (god of wine and evidentially, raves) and Hermes (god of money) have adapted quite well to modern society. Even Aphrodite, Apollo and Artemis have regular jobs, all the while seemly still responsible for performing their divine duties. Their plight is reduced to them whining about declining powers, the fact that no-one believes in them anymore and the fact that they can’t mess, meddle or molest mortals the way they used to. Which, given what I can remember about my Greek myths, is only good news for us mortals. 

The book is an easy read, amusing in an inoffensive way and a decent modern retelling of the classic Greek myths (will Neil risk everything for love?). However, anyone looking for an inspired take on the Greek Gods or a surprise in the plot might be somewhat disappointed. Nor is the whole concept particularly new to anyone familiar with other British writers like Tom Holt or Terry Pratchett.

And finally my last niggle with Gods Behaving Badly might be with the questions it never answers: Why do Zeus and Hera live in the attic? Are there other pantheons (Norse, Aztec, Chinese) around or was it always just the Greeks? Why were they deposed in the first place and why in Hades did they all move into the same house in London anyway?

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About Matthew Webber

  • Rob Lee

    in response to the last review here, they explain why they are in the house in London in the first two chapters of the book. one can assume Zues and Hera live in the attic because it’s the highest point in the house, as well as the “incident” that happened to Zues as mentioned in the third chapter,

    but I agree the book is rather dry and slow, but still relatively entertaining I liked it. although some of the smaller details of Greek mythology is off.
    for example Eros being the god of “love” which he wasn’t. he was the god of carnal desire, so it’s weird seeing him being the most virtuous of the house. and yes I found the convert to Christianity humorous but kind of stupid at the same time…he IS a GOD after all.

    all in all it’s a decent book I enjoyed it. and hope to find more of Marie Philips