Amanda Michalopoulou: Η γυναίκα του Θεού (God’s Wife)
When I first saw the title of this book, I assumed that the eponymous God referred to some man who considered himself God-like or was so considered by others. Indeed, I thought of the guitarist Eric Clapton, whose nickname was and probably still is God. I was wrong. God, in this case, is your standard, stereotypical biblical God, replete with white beard and surrounded by angels. Our unnamed narrator, an ordinary young woman, presumably Greek, though her nationality is not specified, married him.
There are not many books where God (in anthropomorphic form) is a character. The Guardian had a go but the anthropomorphic God barely makes an appearance in any of these books unless you consider Christ in The Last Temptation of Christ, also, of course, a Greek book. Giacomo Sartori had a go in his I Am God, which seems to meet the criteria, but I have not read it.
Cinema does a bit better with Alanis Morissette in the brilliant Dogma, which also features Alan Rickman as a genitally deprived angel, and there is Morgan Freeman as a benign black God in Bruce Almighty.
In this book, our narrator is an orphan. Her parents were killed in a car crash. She and her brother were in the back seat of the car at the time, but both survived. Her unmarried, childless, very religious aunt subsequently brought them up. Our narrator more or less went along with her aunt’s religious activities, her brother did not. Indeed, he is a particularly nasty piece of work – torturing animals, smoking, petty theft but also torturing his sister. Indeed, that is how she meets God. Coming back from school – she is seventeen at the time – he tells her that he is going to tie her to a tree. She does not seem to object and he does so. He tells her that he has been told to do so (by God? we do not know). It starts to rain, she gets wet and then falls asleep. When she awakes, she is in a bed, with an angel watching over her.
God arrives and proposes to her. I’ve been married many times. I’m faithful, bound by deep ties to my spouse, and farewells are always torture. Sometimes, I’m alone for two hundred, five hundred years at a time. But the day always comes when my solitude becomes unbearable, maddening. They marry but don’t live happily ever after.
God is a man, at least as far as this book is concerned. Though he does not like sex (he tells her that the marriage will be platonic), alcohol or football, he is like a human man in other respects. He gets distracted. He gets annoyed. He likes terrible jokes. (His favourite is It would have approached nearer to the idea of a miracle, if Jonah had swallowed the whale.) He is inconsistent. For example, he repeatedly tells her that he does not do magic but, in fact, frequently does, as regards her food, clothing and other needs or, when they go on holiday, producing fake passports for her and him, as well as a ready supply of the local currency. He reads a lot, including in bed (they share a bed). (His reading tastes are non-fiction – he despises fiction and poetry – preferring philosophy, science and art.) He is controlling, bullying even. He goes out in the morning and comes back in the evening, though sometimes does not come back. They have marital problems, like any earthly couple.
For her, life is decidedly mixed. She claims she loves him (as a husband) and, to a certain degree, is happy with the trappings of being his wife – nice house, food on demand, able to fly over the area they live in, and so on. However, she clearly misses sex, making up for it by masturbating and even resorting to the tame wild animals in the forest by the house. Though she never mentions it, she surely misses human company. The only person she can talk to is God, as the angels do not speak her language and she does not understand theirs.
God is not particularly easy to talk to. There are a variety of questions she would have liked to raise with him but, for some reason, does not. However, she does ask him how long she will live. He refuses to answer.
She finds many faults in him, as a husband and not just the lack of sex. He does not, she says, understand human nature. His problem, she says is His lack of forebears, a personal history, the sustaining warmth of family. One day, I mean to tell Him: The God of the Bible—that merciful, impatient, ultra-virtuous, and rancorous God — is the spitting image of my husband.
There is a third person in the relationship – us, the readers. She repeatedly tell us that this story she is telling is for us, so that we know what happened. She had difficulty writing it as God refused her a pencil though she eventually manages to get hold of one. God, of course, finds out and there is a price to pay.
When I started reading this book, I thought it was primarily going to be a gentle, mocking satire of the conventional Christian view of God, of male chauvinism and how some humans see God. While it partly remains this, as well as being a very clever and original story, things do develop.
Both God and our narrator read a lot. She reads fiction and non-fiction and these various books give her different perceptions of God and the human relationship to God. She mulls over all of them, unsure of exactly what she feels. What is religion and what is the point of religion? Religions exploit our spiritual vulnerabilities, preaching now forced solidarity, now bigotry. The literal reading of texts leads to fundamentalism. Deep down, He says, we are all alone. God himself is not too keen on religion. Ultimately, however, he has created this world and has not done a particularly good job of it.
Another way of looking at this book is an attempt to bring together Ἔρως (Eros, i.e. erotic love) and ἀγάπη (agape, i.e. love for God) and make them one. Clearly, it does not work too well.
Ultimately, as a (fairly) normal human, our narrator wants to be herself. I wanted to let loose, to misbehave, to act like a true devil. Being married to God, that is just not possible.
This is, of course, a very unusual and original book. I still have not fully worked out what it is about – a clever and original story, a diatribe on the nature of God and human interaction with Him, another way of looking at human relationships with God, a critique of the conventional view of God and of male chauvinism, examination of the various ways humans see God or even something else. A good book should make you think and this book certainly made me think. It certainly did not change my views – I am a committed atheist – but it did make me wonder how other people think about this subject.
First published 1996 by Kastaniotis
First English translation in 2019 by Dalkey Archive Press
Translated by Patricia Felisa Barbeito