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The Godless Boys [Paperback]

Naomi Wood
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 April 2011

If you were forced to live with faith, or without, which would you choose?

England. 1986. The Church controls the country, and all members of the Secular Movement have been expelled to the Island.

On the Island, religion is outlawed. A gang of boys patrols the community, searching for signs of faith, and punishing any believers.

When an English girl arrives – intent on finding her mother who disappeared, mysteriously, ten years ago – she is swept up in the dangerous games of the gang. But while one boy falls in love with her, the other wants revenge for the wrongs of the past, and, as the violence escalates, the English girl becomes their pawn.

The Godless Boys is a book about faith, and life without faith; about love, and its absence. But above all, it's about power, and how dangerous it can be to stand out from the crowd. Both violent and tender, it’s a remarkable debut, and clearly marks Naomi Wood as a name to note.

Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (1 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330530127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330530125
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 509,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'She writes quite beautifully, carrying one irresistibly through to a world in which Richard Dawkins has become a bovver boy and the Church is in charge of the country.' --Giles Foden

'The comforts of faith, the terrors of extremism, the loneliness of not believing anything at all: these are the aggressively modern tensions that pierce Wood's novel . . . it's a richly conceived debut' --Metro

`Whoever said religion and politics shouldn't be discussed at dinner parties might need to think again, as this tale of faith and power from a young British writer is bound to get tables talking . . . An exploration of gang terror with whispers of A Clockwork Orange and a nod to Lord of the Flies, the novel also has shades of 2006's film This is England. But it's the surprising tenderness and cliché-free sentimentality that sets this story apart. Vibrant and evocative language give a tangible bitterness to this sharp story about lives saved, and doomed, by religious faith.' --Book of the Week, Stylist

`The comforts of faith, the terrors of extremism, the loneliness of not believing anything at all: these are the aggressively modern tensions that pierce Wood's novel . . . it's a richly conceived debut' --Metro

'Wood's use of language is deft and ambitious. . . Wood is only twenty-seven yet her writing already has distinction.' --Literary Review

'Wood's Island, a dank environment of anaemic despair, is compelling, though more fey than feral; the story constructed as a parable of betrayal and wonder.' --Guardian

'Wood has skillfully woven into the larger dramatic context of the narrative itself, a mix of incident, commentary, and dialogue which allows her to avoid any ungainly or plot-stopping summary of information. A readable and engaging debut, The Godless Boys marks Naomi Woods as a writer of talent and promise' --Irish Examiner

About the Author

Naomi Wood is 27 and lives in London. She studied at Cambridge and at UEA for her MA in Creative Writing. Originally from York, she has gone on to live in Hong Kong, Paris and Washington DC. This is her first novel.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Godless Boys 27 July 2011
By Catriona Reid VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In a Britain where the Church has seized absolute control of the country, members of the Secular Movement have been exiled to The Island, where religion is banned. Any outward expression of religion - praying, owning a Bible, even visiting the Island's abandoned church - is punished harshly by a gang of boys wanting to keep their Island pure.

This summary reads like a dystopian future, but the novel is actually set in the near past - 1986. In a way, this makes the novel resonate more clearly - it's all too easy to get detatched from dystopian novels and say "that could never happen to us!", whereas the political situation in The Godless Boys feels entirely plausible.

All of that is, of course, just a backdrop for the actual story, which involves two boys attempting to grow up, a girl seeking her mother, and the relationships between those three. Love, betrayal, faith, forgiveness, and fear all play a part in this book.

The concept of secularism becoming as dogmatic in its own way as religion is hardly a new one, but this novel is well-crafted, with several different POV narrators intertwined in a gripping narrative. There are some very sad moments, characters, and relationships explored - it's not a novel that's going to leave you with a smile on your face, as too much has been lost.

But the overall message, of the danger of holding onto grudges and absolute belief, is tentatively hopeful. An excellent debut.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seven days of change and consequence 17 April 2011
By Mr. J. C. Clubb VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Set in an alternative history where England is ruled by the Church and the secularist community has been banished to a solitary island, Naomi Wood's debut novel, "The Godless Boys", is a story about a dramatic week on the island. Nathaniel, the son of an original member of the secular movement, leads a gang of teenage boys, the Malades, who are determined to protect the island from any religious influence. This means intimidating potential "gots" and prowling the streets at night. Eliza Michalka lives a sorry existence on the island - a part-time prostitute and a part-time undertaker who drops corpses into the surrounding ocean - she pines after her lost love, the aloof fishmonger Arthur Stansky. However, this week all their lives will be changed when Sarah, daughter of 1976 church-burner, Laura Wicks, stows away to seek out her mother on The Island...

We are living in a time that has seen the rise of fundamental religiosity and New Atheism. Therefore it isn't difficult to see where the author's inspiration came from. Why she decided to set it in 1986 is another matter altogether. There is little in the way of obvious parallels with the real 1986, but I guess it helps to keep matters simple without the presence of the internet and the normalcy of mobile phones. The whole book is markedly minimalistic without being pretentious. This is perhaps reflective of the two radically opposing philosophies that form the backdrop of the story.

Wood does not explore the details of either the Christian dogma that now rules England or the strict secularist movement of The Island.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love and violence among the offshore arsonists 26 April 2012
There are enough good ideas in this book for one twice its length, but Naomi Wood has wisely left the reader to think them through and has concentrated on writing a story that packs a punch.

One clever idea has been to write a futuristic book set in 1986, which is akin to firt reading Orwell's `1984' only now that date is behind us. But for all the dystopian feel, and the nods to the `droogs' in Anthony Burgess's `A Clockwork Orange' and their use of slang, there's as much of `Under Milk Wood' here. The creepy teenage gang, shaven-headed and kitted out like Morris-dancing members of the National Front, has given itself the mission of preventing backsliding towards God by the islands' secular inhabitants, deported there after a campaign of church-burning on mainland England. But most of the other characters and their lives read more like Polly Garter, Dai Bread and the rest. Thuggery and naivete here make for an unsettling mix.

The `Troubles' of recent Northern Irish history are also present, visible in the policies of internment and segregation on religious grounds used by the God-fearing majority in control of England, and in references to a Sunday Agreement whereby imprisoned secularists can regain their freedom. The quality of writing is excellent, never better than when the elderly John Verger, who took part in the burning of the island's church on his arrival in the first wave of deportees, rediscovers his faith; the state of grace receives an advocacy that is truly moving.

All this, and time for a coherent and exciting story too, which other reviewers have outlined. No easy resolutions in the final pages, either.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars England as an Iranian theocracy 23 Aug 2011
If measured by church attendance and similar statistics Britain is one of the least religious and most secular societies on the planet. The notion of this country turning into an Iranian style theocracy run by a militant Church of England is quite unimaginable. Yet that's essentially the background to Wood's novel, which is set in an alternative England of 1986. From what I can gather a fundamentalist Church of England runs the country (which is always described as England and never Britain, so maybe the Scots and Welsh have upped and left in this alternative universe, or never were in the first place).

I found the alternative universe of The Godless Boys fascinating because sometimes a single person or event can change the entire course of history. What happened to make England a theocracy? It's interesting to speculate but Woods doesn't go deeper, which is a shame. The story of the expulsions draws on tactics used by UK governments in our own time, most notably in Northern Ireland, including internment, something called the Sunday Agreement designed to bring a peace process of sorts, and so on.

The Godless Boys has been published by coincidence at the same time as the first English language production of Ibsen's Emperor and Galilean at the National Theatre in London. This tells the story of how the Emperor Constantine saw Christianity as a threat and co-opted it into the Roman state religion. Therefore what was a small, radical sect that challenged the very notion of hierarchy, wealth and power, speaking very clearly for the dispossessed, became instead, formally at least, part of the state and has remained so ever since. Almost as good as Sarah Hall's outstanding The Carhullan Army.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting idea but didn't quite pull it off
I liked the original idea that the story is focused around but I just felt that the book never really lived up to its potential. Read more
Published 4 months ago by HMC
4.0 out of 5 stars Two weeks after finishing it, I'm still thinking about this book
What a concept! The consequences, and the 'what ifs' of what might happen, based not only on your own actions, but also the actions of our ancestors. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Elaine Frost
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply breathtaking
The Godless Boys is without a doubt one of the most intriguing novels I have read this year. The island setting for the book is as cold and bleak as it is atmospheric, the old... Read more
Published 9 months ago by
5.0 out of 5 stars Creative, imaginative and thoughtful
There are some books which get loads of hype, then you read them and think `why? What was all the fuss about? Read more
Published 12 months ago by Jennie Pollock
4.0 out of 5 stars What would happen if there was Atheist extremism...?!
The book gives you one possible answer to that question. It is set in an alternative version of England, where non-religious people were sent to an island to live in exile. Read more
Published 16 months ago by NaneUK
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking
I was intrigued by the premise of this novel - an alternative England where the church is all powerful and the few secularists have been banished to a bleak island somewhere off... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Boof
3.0 out of 5 stars Potentially brilliant, but not there yet?
I loved the ideas and the writing in this book, but somehow it felt a bit flat. I've had trouble working out why, but come to the conclusion that, although you could describe it as... Read more
Published on 20 July 2012 by steph
4.0 out of 5 stars The Godless Boys
I wasn't sure if this would be my cup of tea or not but I'm glad to say that I really enjoyed it. Its a very unique read that is beautifully written and has a very thought... Read more
Published on 16 Mar 2012 by Nikki
2.0 out of 5 stars Bleak and uncomfortable
The book focuses on life on The Island, where there is no religion. I was really interested in what happened to change society as we know it to such an extent, however the author... Read more
Published on 18 Jan 2012 by Dinah85
3.0 out of 5 stars A compelling idea, but a bleak story
An interesting premise for a novel - set in a recent alternative past where England is a strictly religious society, which persecutes those who choose not to belong to the... Read more
Published on 8 Jan 2012 by AR
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