Gods Behaving Badly-Marie Phillips

In Book Reviews, fiction on July 5, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Moira and I are going solo with our reviews this week, in addition to moving out of the romance department for a time.  I’m an incurable romantic, so I can’t help but return to romance books in the future.  However, this week I’ve turned to another love of mine:  mythology.

In Marie Phillips’ first book, Gods Behaving Badly, the Greek gods and goddess are living in a  London townhouse and attempting to deal with with the reality that they are getting old  and their devotees are few and far between now.  What consumes their days is the need to fill up the hours with some kind of amusement. The story Phillips crafts of these days is incredibly funny and clever.

Putting ancient Greek gods and goddesses in modern day Britain requires giving them something to do all day.  London is no Mount Olympus, and it seems ambrosia and nectar are in short supply, so the deities have been forced to conform to modern day life and get jobs.  Phillips’ choices for jobs are fitting and clever.  Aphrodite is a phone sex operator.  Of course she is since modern day love is so intertwined with sex. And she’s very good at her job.  The descriptions of her sitting on the couch in the gods’ living room casually asking the person on the other end of the line what they’re wearing or what she should do to them are hysterical. Apollo, god of the sun who traditionally has the power to see into the future, is a television psychic in the vein of John Edwards and his Crossing Over television show.  In addition, Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, figures prominently in the story as a dog walker and the conscience of the group.  Other gods are also featured in the story, such as Eros, who is no longer just the god of love but also a born again Christian who repeatedly struggles with his fellow gods’ antics because of his belief in Jesus, and Dionysus, who in his Greek form is the god of wine and song, but in modern London is club owner who always has a drink available.

In addition to the gods, there are two mortal main characters, Neil and Alice.  Neil is a nerd who is in love with Alice and so desperately wants to be with her, and Alice is a cleaner.  How they intersect with the gods is that Alice ends up as the gods’ house cleaner.

Apollo is exceptionally bored in the modern age, and his antics form the main story of the book, which includes a problem between the erstwhile lovers Aphrodite and Apollo (who are also aunt and nephew) that blows up into a fight that could end the world. Aphrodite wants a favor from Apollo and when he refuses what she sees is a tiny favor for her, she vows to make him pay.  With the help of Eros, who in his new moralistic version spends his time feeling guilty for what comes naturally to Greek gods, Aphrodite makes Apollo fall in love with the very plain Alice.  Of course, this is very bad because Apollo’s history with women is poor, to say the least.  Just ask the girl he turned into a tree down the street from the gods’ home because she wouldn’t give him a blow job (a modern take on the Apollo and Daphne myth); in addition, remember poor Cassandra, whose myth tells of Apollo giving her the gift of prophecy to get her in bed and when she still refused him after taking the gift was cursed with the gift of prophecy no one would believe (those poor fools of Troy!).  To be loved by Apollo is a dangerous thing, and poor Alice ends up in the Underworld because she spurns his advances.

Marie Phillips’ story is funny and a quick read because it’s  so interesting.  On the surface, it’s a comedy that entertains, but it’s also a smarter, deeper story that deals with religion and belief.  The Greek gods are stuck living in a time when no one believes in them anymore.  Their powers are waning rapidly not because they are aging but because they are gods who spiritually influence no one.  They yearn for the days when they leisurely spent time on Mount Olympus toying with mortals and lolling around as lesser beings brought them food and drink.  The problem is that each still has responsibilities on Earth, and some, such as Apollo’s returning the sun each day, are vital to the humans who couldn’t care less about any Greek deities.  They are needed for survival of the planet, but no one knows this.

Added to these is a love story Phillips sets similarly to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.  In the Greek myth, these lovers are separated by Eurydice’s death and trip to the Underworld, and Orpheus, in an attempt to retrieve his wife, travels to the Underworld to charm Hades and Persephone and bring his love back to the surface.  They are never reunited, however, because Hades puts one stipulation on his release of Eurydice:  Orpheus can have her back if he doesn’t turn around as they are walking back up to the surface.  If he doubts she is behind him and turns to see her, she will remain in the Underworld.  Hades knows humans, and just as he believed Orpheus would, he turns around right before the two reach the surface, only to see her drift away back into the Underworld.

Phillips uses this myth to influence the love story between Neil and Alice, who even though they are mortals, must save the world not only for themselves and mankind, but for the gods also.  Both mortals are transformed from mousy, lackluster versions of humans to true heroes who are able to help save the world.

Overall, Gods Behaving Badly is an enjoyable story.  The mortal characters are far less interesting than the gods, but this mirrors days past in Greece when humans lived and died according to the caprice of their larger-than-life gods.  Marie Phillips has woven a story that is entertaining to mythology lovers because she borrows from the myths and successfully creates situations in the modern world for the gods to affect. Readers with little or no knowledge of the Greek myths will still enjoy the story because of the humor.  They may even feel the urge to read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology to learn about the Greek gods and goddesses after reading Gods Behaving Badly.

  1. I thought this one was hilarious but I agree with a deeper meaning at times.

    I am using your review for a Scavenger Hunt

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