Book Review – The Godless Boys

by Naomi Wood (Picador) ISBN: 9780330530125

In this dystopian novel, a debut by Naomi Wood, an alternative reality of England in the eighties is created: people have been banned from England, where the Church took power and the non-believers are expelled to an island.

Nathaniel is a gang leader, born on the island. He is a militant, mainly out of boredom. He is prepared to rigidly defend atheism and punish anyone who is found praying or suspected of being religious. The threatening undertone only disappears when he is with his lethargic mother. Everything changes when he falls in love with Sarah, a stowaway girl from England, in search of her terrorist mother.

This book is disturbing, filled with sadness. Wood succeeds in describing the loneliness, the poverty and the deprivation of the people unable to leave the island. She follows through with details in her storyline, using slang and problems like the unfounded fear of anaemia, because there is no meat on the island.

The character developments are also good, but the story left me wondering why there was such antipathy towards religion, why churches were bombed. I missed the context. Overall the book left me unsettled: a haunting tale and a love story, but Wood could have dug in deeper.

Pauline Vijverberg