God behaving badly
Meg Rosoff has never shied away from complex or controversial topics, as readers discovered in her first novel, the Printz Award-winning How I Live Now. Yet perhaps she has never displayed such a compelling combination of irreverence, intelligence and humor as in her latest novel, There Is No Dog. In this book, God is a teenage boy named Bob who generally prefers sleeping to looking after the world he created. But few things are more likely to rouse Bob from his slumber than a pretty girl, and when a young woman named Lucy sends up a plea to God, “I should like to fall in love,” her prayers are answered in a way she never expected—with globally catastrophic results.
Rosoff spoke candidly with us about her own beliefs, the backlash she has experienced and the difficulty of taking on the job of God.
Books re-imagining gods (such as the Greek gods in the Percy Jackson books) have become popular with teens and young readers, but not many have dared to re-interpret the Judeo-Christian God. What was it that drew you to this particular idea?
I didn’t think I was being particularly daring! I’ve been trying to make sense of the Judeo-Christian God since I was about seven years old and realized I was an atheist. Many of the examples of God’s wonderful creation have struck me as flawed, pretty much throughout my life, so I guess you could say that this is a book I’ve been thinking about for something like half a century!
There Is No Dog is a very irreverent take on a topic that many people take very seriously. Have you gotten much backlash about the book?
The book has been banned in a number of schools (particularly Church of England schools) in the UK, and I was uninvited from a couple of book festival appearances in the UK, and uninvited from another big international festival in Dubai. There’s a lot of talk online about how it’s blasphemous and shouldn’t be shown to children, but in actual fact, I think it’s a rather gentle, faith-affirming book. I always say that the Judeo-Christian tradition isn’t about to fall apart on the basis of a bit of satire. It’s been around for a very long time, and is no doubt used to it. And in any case, because There Is No Dog is a comedy, I’ve been able to deal with a lot of difficult subjects in a fairly lighthearted manner. But I suppose imagining God as a sex-mad teenager whose mother won the job for him in a poker game is bound to be a little controversial.
I loved the idea that the job of God has actually been split between two people: Bob, a teenage boy who spends most of his time sleeping and fantasizing about sex, and Mr. B, a middle-manager type who does all the actual work of answering people’s prayers and cleaning up Bob’s messes. How different would the world be if the job had gone to Mr. B alone?
Ah, well, maybe we’ll find out someday. . . . But of course the job is more or less impossible no matter who’s doing it, so I’m not sure how much better Mr. B would do. Though at least he would try. And care. And I suppose if he had been the one responsible for creation, we might all have ended up with far fewer flaws, so that would be a very good thing.
Bob is essentially a spoiled brat: selfish, thoughtless and rather difficult to like. What was it like to write a character like that? Did you find yourself growing irritated with him, or perhaps feeling sympathy for his struggles?
Bob is difficult to like, but I hope not impossible. I’ve noticed that my teenage readers and parents of teenagers have the most sympathy for him. He isn’t entirely bad—he has brilliant inspirations, feels things very strongly, is passionate, and actually very lonely as well . . . it’s just that he can’t see much further than his own desires and passions. If he weren’t a god, and therefore stuck in his 19-year-old self, he would probably grow out of his solipsism.
Animals play a large role in the book, from Lucy’s job at the zoo to Bob’s pet Eck to Mr. B’s beloved whales. Are you an animal lover yourself?
I’m a huge animal lover and have been all my life. I have two whippet cross dogs (known as lurchers in the UK) which you can see running on my website, and I share a horse and ride as often as I can. But I’ve always identified quite strongly with animals—sometimes I think I can get inside the heads of animals, or am part dog or horse myself. Animals keep showing up in all my books, no matter how hard I work to keep them out. They just jump over the fences and sneak underneath the walls!
Read our review of There Is No Dog.