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Gods Behaving Badly


Gods Behaving Badly

Greek gods are hot right now. In the past couple of years, I've
read --- and in some cases reviewed --- more than a handful of
novels inspired by those endlessly fascinating Olympians. Simply
taking a survey of recent fiction for children, young adults and
grown-ups alike, it would appear that mythology is seriously

Try telling that, though, to the gods and goddesses who inhabit
Marie Phillips's debut novel, GODS BEHAVING BADLY. Their powers
diminishing, their work increasingly irrelevant in a modern world,
these Greek deities have gone into seclusion, living together in a
ramshackle, filthy townhouse in London. They even have been forced
to get day jobs: Aphrodite is a phone sex operator, Demeter is a
frustrated gardener, Artemis is a dog walker, Athena is an adjunct
professor, Dionysus is a disc jockey and Ares keeps himself
infinitely busy by inciting land wars.

As for Eros, he has mortified his mother Aphrodite by turning to a
new God --- Jesus. As for Zeus and Hera, no one has seen those head
gods for years, and even their own children are questioning whether
or not they still exist.

Close proximity, ongoing frustrations and old axes to grind lead to
a family situation even more dysfunctional than the ones described
in the classic myths. Aphrodite has sex with every male in the
house --- when she's not busy redecorating her bedroom. This, of
course, irks chaste Artemis, who also has grown increasingly
perturbed by Apollo's little habit of turning mortals into

As for Apollo, he is about to embark on a new career venture as a
television psychic. But when Eros's arrows fly, serious
complications ensue, especially when a human house cleaner named
Alice and her quasi-boyfriend Neil are caught in the crossfire. The
result is a raunchy, witty romp through mythology --- and even into
the bowels of Hades, which can be reached through a popular London
Underground station.

Marie Phillips, who studied anthropology at Cambridge University,
clearly knows her Greek myths. She utilizes the classic tales of
Persephone and Hades as well as Orpheus and Eurydice, to provide
classic parallels for her own plot. She also uses her modern
setting to give the gods more depth of personality, as well as to
comment ironically on such issues as belief and heroism. As her
reluctant (and most unlikely) hero, Neil, says: "I have never done
anything in my life that could even remotely be described as
heroic…I've given blood a few times; they say that's heroic,
but I don't think it counts as real heroism if they give you a cup
of tea and a digestive biscuit afterward."

By repositioning the Greek gods in the contemporary world, Phillips
argues for their ongoing relevance while subtly commenting on just
how far we have (or haven't) come since the heyday of Olympus.
Playing up the Greek gods' foibles by intersecting their obsessions
and desires with those of the modern world, Phillips has created a
clever juxtaposition of classic lore and modern life.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 22, 2011

Gods Behaving Badly
by Marie Phillips

  • Publication Date: December 10, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316067628
  • ISBN-13: 9780316067621