Robert Edric

The disappearing guru

In 1909, in a late letter to his brother, Henry James bemoaned the fact that the ‘novel of ideas’ – the novel ‘built on the momentum and inspiration found in a solid, sustainable and infinitely expandable idea’ – was finally dead, and that it had died from ‘lack of want or appetite in the reading public’. He complained that the modern novel was too often concerned only with the ‘circumstance of character and enforced narrative’, that ‘novelty and fantasy and the banality of everyday ordinariness’ now held sway.

Nicholas Mosley has written a novel of which James would have wholeheartedly approved. Inventing God is an unfashionable, unpredictable novel in which the characters and their interactions are wholly dependent on and sustained by the exploration of the ideas at their centre.

This might today sound at once like faint praise and ungracious criticism, but Inventing God is that rare thing among modern novels – one that will either engage and enthrall, or one that will infuriate and alienate its readers depending on how far they allow themselves to be drawn into its seductive and labyrinthine complexities.

Reduced to those Jamesian bugbears of character and narrative, Inventing God concerns one Maurice Rotblatt, an ‘ex-television guru’, who arrives in the Middle East, calls for an end to all ethnic and religious hostility and promptly disappears. A succession of characters circle this seven-year-old dark and empty centre, blind orbits that occasionally come close to one another, and which even more infrequently collide. Burial chambers are excavated, bones are found; Internet websites proclaim both the death and the existence of Rotblatt; his ideas and aspirations are elevated into New Age scripture.

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