Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Voice of God

Is it possible for God to be a character in fiction?

Some authors clearly think so. This is how Peter Esterhazy's The Book of Hrabal begins:

The two angels spoke to each other in the language of (what else?) angels. They had assumed the guise of young men; one of them was called Blaise, the other Gabriel, but everyone, including the Good Lord, just called him Cho-Cho.
   'Look here, Cho-Cho, you'd better go and check out what in God's name, if you'll pardon the expression, they're up to down there ... Straight to the point, minimum of fuss, but plenty of circumspection, you know how it is ... free will and tact and all that jazz. And take someone along ... You'll need him.'
   'For a witness?'
   'Are you pulling my leg, Cho-Cho, or what? You're an azes ponem, a wiseguy, eh? So stop it. And cut the crap. No need spelling it all out. What're you, a frustrated accountant? Don't you make me account for myself, you hear?'

And this is Irvine Welsh's God in The Granton Star Cause:

- Shut it cunt! Ah've fuckin hud it up tae ma eyebaws wi aw this repentance shite. Vengeance is mine, n ah intend tae take it, oan ma ain lazy n selfish nature, through the species ah created, through thir representative. That's you.

[You can read about another example of God in fiction (written by a Jewish author, Shalom Auslander) here.]

There are perhaps two questions which arise here. 1. Should God ever be a character in fiction (which I'll address in another post about Noye's Fludde)? 2. If He is a character in fiction then how should He be portrayed?

Welsh's God speaks not in the Standard English of the narrator but, more surprisingly, in Boab Coyle's vernacular. He seems, in terms of language and attitude, to be a projection of Coyle rather than a divine being. In other words, Welsh is far more interested in human weaknesses than he is in divine and he uses humour (and the full resources of the language) to depict our various weaknesses. Some critics have also suggested that The Granton Star Cause is, in part, a response to Calvinism, which suggests an intriguing link with the Catholic Muriel Spark.

Nevertheless, however much we seek to understand Welsh's and Esterhazy's work from a literary perspective, we cannot ignore theology. If we believe that God has spoken, if we believe that we should not take the name of God in vain, then we need to think very carefully indeed before including God in our fiction.

This is something Hemingway understood: "I don't like to write like God," he once wrote. Let alone include Him in his fiction. The writer sometimes has a duty to be humble.

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