Modern Gods by Nick Laird

Review published on November 14, 2017.

After a shocking, violent prologue, this book settles into a family drama reminiscent of the best of Anne Enright. Alison is preparing for her second marriage in Ballygrass, Northern Ireland. Her mother is fearful of a return of a serious illness, her father gets confused, her sister is accepting the break-up of yet another relationship and her brother has secrets of his own. The author pitches these family dynamics perfectly, the characters are well-rounded with modern, on-point references and the first part of the novel is an unpredictable joy. In the second part, sister Liz travels to New Ulster Island off Papua New Guinea to film a BBC documentary about a new religion. The author opened up my eyes to Cargo Cults, which is something I knew nothing about yet in moving to this second narrative strand some of the vivacity and the power of the novel is diluted. This is always a risk (I felt exactly the same recently about Zadie Smith’s Swing Time) as there is a danger that the reader will favour one strand more than the other and although I enjoyed reading about Liz’s chilling experience of disastrous western intervention, I was itching to get back to Ireland where there were equally difficult situations regarding fanaticism to resolve.

The sections do link together and I can see what the author is trying to convey. I think reading groups not afraid to tackle conflicts over religions both old and new will find much to consider. It’s a very good third novel from this prize-winning Irish author and certainly for the first half I thought it was going to be an exceptional one. I will certainly seek out his earlier works.

Phil Ramage 4/4

Modern Gods by Nick Laird
Fourth Estate 9780008257323 hbk Jun 2017

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