The Good Book: Genesis

Grayling’s takes on Genesis retells the story in a simplified form, spelling out at some length how the universe, the world and the life that lives in them came to be. But it does so with little detail, and with a chronology so twisted as to make the Bible’s two creation stories in its Genesis comparitively straightforward. At least in the Bible, after chapter 3, things happen chronologically. Not so in the Good Book’s take on Genesis.

The language remains a problem. There’s a deliberately old-fashioned turn of phrase that is clearly intended to evoke the language of the KJV, but which feels ill-suited to its subject matter. The book reads like a semi-decent fanfic of the King James Bible at times, aiming for magisterial, but mostly just coming across as pretentious. I’m only one book into it, and I can’t help feeling that if Grayling had had a co-writer, someone to help with the literary style side of things, the language might have been more memorably poetic.

As it is, Grayling’s take on poetry appears in chapters 9 and 10 of his Genesis, where it consists of a series of rhyming couplets, in no particular order, retelling prehistory. The result is amateurish. The couplets do not scan – one is left with the distinct impression that Grayling at no point troubled himself to read them aloud.

The closing chapters of Genesis only add new problems. Grayling’s scientific account becomes overtly triumphalist, to the point of acclaiming the quest of science as the greatest moral good to which humanity can aspire.

Grayling’s own awkward insertion of himself into the narrative, in chapter 14, is a serious mis-step. Perhaps a reworked version of the chapter could serve as an introduction to the book, as a new chapter 1, but as the penultimate chapter, it is out of joint with its surrounds, more for being in first person than for its content. But then, the authorial voice of this book ranges from first person to third to second and back again apparently randomly, with Grayling apparently unaware of how jarring this effect is. Indeed, it seems that one thing the Good Book shares with the Bible is the need for a decent editor.

The front cover of this book, I note, described it as “Made by” rather than “Written by” and the more I read, the more apt that seems. The writing here is barely a work of craft, let alone a work of art, and the points which Grayling seeks to make, though important, are undermined by the needlessly obscurantist style in which they are communicated.

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