Monday, December 24, 2007

"Gods Behaving Badly"

Marie Phillips' new book is Gods Behaving Badly.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the debut novel and reported the following:
Curse you, Marshall McLuhan and your dirty mind! Couldn't you have come up with the page 70 test? No, it had to be page 69. Very funny, very risque. Thing is, my page 70 is great, and full of the snappy dialogue which is probably the forte of this book. But my page 69 has no dialogue at all, and is just so ... so BORING.

Sometimes a writer has to do what a writer has to do and what this writer had to do on page 69 was exposition. There's a lot of action in pages 1 to 67 in Gods Behaving Badly but at the beginning of Chapter 12 (page 68) I slow it down a bit, to spend some time inside the mind of Artemis, goddess of hunting, chastity and the moon.

On page 69 Artemis is out for a jog, thinking about, first of all, how the Olympian gods got their power:

Running up a grassy slope, Artemis almost tripped on a root. There had been a time when they hadn't been gods either. The Titans had been in charge once, but they had weakened, and the Olympians had exploited that weakness. Despite herself, Artemis couldn't help but imagine a world under the control of the sybils. It was a lot pinker than the world was now.

(Argh! That isn't even good grammar! "Would be", surely?)

Her thoughts move on to the imminent arrival of spring, and with it the goddess Persephone:

Spring was coming yet again, and soon Persephone would be home. She made a face. She hoped that they wouldn't have to have Persephone sleeping in their room again this year. She would have a word with Athena, make sure that she crammed even more books than usual into their space, making it impossible to squeeze the spare mattress onto the floor. There simply wasn't enough room for all of them in that house. Fortunately, Persephone had been making her visits to the upperworld shorter and shorter. Long ago, when Zeus had banished her to the underworld for every winter, he had bound her to a minimum yearly period to be spent underground. At the time, there had seemed to be little need to set a maximum limit. Of late, Persephone had begun taking advantage of this loophole.

Both of these topics provide need-to-know information for readers of the novel less versed in the Classics. First of all, I had to make it clear that the gods' power and position was not absolute, to show how much is at stake for them in this story. Secondly, I had to introduce the concept of the underworld, which becomes important later on. We don't actually meet Persephone until page 255. Think Victoria Beckham.

At the bottom of page 69, Artemis spots her cousin Eros, the god of love turned born-again Christian, and a more fun part of the novel is flagged up to commence. But it doesn't commence until you flip that page over and read on. If you still have the inclination to, after those chewy paragraphs....

Page 69 may be a useful page in the world of Gods Behaving Badly, but exposition does mean that sometimes your characters have to be conveniently running through parks, conveniently thinking about things that your readers need to know about. As just a single page in a 292-page novel, one does hope that it blends in, or at least that it's over quickly enough not to hurt. But taken out and read in isolation? Curse you, curse you, McLuhan! I am going to set the Furies on you.
Read more about the novel and watch a video of Phillips talking about Gods Behaving Badly.

Learn more about the author and her writing at the official Marie Phillips website and The Woman Who Talked Too much blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue