Alice Mulholland, although armed with a linguistics degree, is a cleaner. She likes things neat and tidy - she's almost obsessive about it. Sacked from a job, she's convinced by her friend Neil to go freelance. Her seeking work brings her to a dilapidated house in an otherwise suitable neighbourhood. Greeted - and hired immediately - by an austere woman named Artemis, she enters a new life. The house in Islington is inhabited by refugees from Mount Olympus, where Artemis once hunted, Zeus ruled and the world seemed a happier place. Now, in this run-down place, they eke out something of an existence while staying mostly out of sight of the mortal world.
In this hilarious account of how the gods interact and what that might mean for us, Marie Phillips depicts their lives in stark detail. Artemis the huntress now walks dogs for busy clients. Aphrodite, that stunningly beautiful personification of lust, is a telephone sex worker. Zeus and Hera haven't been seen for twenty years. Apollo, ever restless, wants to restore his power, but is prevented from some of his more exotic actions by an oath to harm no more humans. Good thing, since he punishes those who reject him. That's almost lucky for Alice with whom he falls madly in love - with a little prompting. Alice, however, is a "nice" girl and wants nothing to do with him. She has Neil - in a manner of speaking - and wants to remain loyal to their tenuous relationship.
Phillips has crafted an engaging story of sibling rivalry, thwarted and waning powers and a touching love story. We have been led away from the idea of our gods being human-like, she reminds us. Perhaps we need something to restore that affiliation and return to what we have lost. First, of course, we must re-ignite that belief. What kind of events might lead us to do that? In Phillips' hands, the answer is vividly clear. We need to be confronted with what we had and find reason to return to it. Her prompt for that reason is innovative, to say the least. Apollo, never receptive to being thwarted, is bent on satisfaction - if not one kind, then another.
One of the gods, Eros, is straying from the fold. He thinks there might be something in Christianity. He's in the process of "converting", although the Olympian Family has serious doubts Jesus ever actually existed. He's learned about "guilt" - without which Christianity couldn't exist - and forgiveness, although he's still in the dark about how it works. He has a chance to try out his new-found skills when a problem arises - mostly over Alice, but much of the Olympian Family's internal rivalries are also involved. The issue becomes critical when the fading powers of the deities are put to the test. Those who know their mythology will recognise much of the solution, but even the knowing will be surprised by how Phillips brings about the resolution. This book almost cries out for a sequel. Read it and find out why. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]