By Mark Kirkbride
Reviewed by De Gevallene, November 2020
The question going through my mind is…. Well why shouldn’t one do God and the Devil as opposing tin-pot dictators, being driven around in limos and buying up arms, each ruling over their own little territory? Why should I be feeling (though I was feeling this) that it’s not very plausible to do them in quite this way? Plausible? God? The Devil? Would I really be happier with one of them wearing a toga and sitting on a cloud, and the other sporting horns and a tail? Would that make the whole scenario more plausible to me? Really?
I was reminded, in a backwards way, of the terribly disappointing scene in Pullman’s His Dark Materials, in which God gets killed in a battle that somehow doesn’t quite engage the imagination. Pullman’s is a work of staggering ambition which begins magnificently, captivates for several hundred pages, but fizzles out as the trilogy grinds on, so by the time God appears, the author seems to have run out of ideas. Kirkbride is happily more modest in his plans, and his brief novella (no, that’s not a tautology, I mean it’s brief even for a novella!) uses God and the Devil and a hapless Pilgrim to tell an engaging little story that one likes more and more as one dances through it in the course of an afternoon – which to my mind is a better progress than investing weeks in a celebrated trilogy and feeling disappointed at the end… Kirkbride’s is a slight little tale about love and loss, but in the telling it offers plenty of wry humour and a wistful romance, so I couldn’t complain.
More substantially it offers a witty challenge to that clichéd staple of western fiction ‘the battle of good versus evil’.
I thought for a while he was going to do that cliché – just reversing the polarity for amusing effect: God as an oppressive authoritarian and the devil as a laid back right-on liberal, defending the oppressed. But he didn’t. He presented the battle of Heaven and Hell as exactly that: a battle in the conventional sense with warplanes and propaganda and people getting killed. Perhaps that’s the point: the absurdity of approaching morality as a battle ground, the way warmongers like to do, as something we can impose on the basis of ‘might is right’. I remembered the old pacifist slogan, daubed on toilet walls in the university of my adolescence “fighting for peace is like fornicating for virginity”.
I dare say religious Americans will find this story sacrilegious and they’ll complain about it, like they did with Harry Potter. That’s fine by me. I’ve been right off religion ever since the pious Governor of Mississippi decided to veto prison reforms, despite my scrupulously argued appeal to New Testament instructions about humility and forgiveness, which I sent to him personally from this blog. So if there has to be a battle, though I have to hope there won’t be, I may as well get in the bumpy lift, and join the other side.
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This review was conducted as part of a Blackthorn’s Book Tour. They kindly emailed me an electronic review copy. This is my honest review.