I heard about God Bomb back in the summer, read the blurb and instantly wanted to read it as so many issues explored in the book seemed pertinent to me. God bomb is set in North Devon in 1995. A teenage atheist suicide bomber walks into a born again Christian revival meeting and states that if God doesn’t appear now, in person, then he’s going to detonate the bomb strapped to his body and kill everyone in the hall. The ensuing story details (and it does detail with excruciating clarity) the next few hours of this siege situation. The book screamed for my attention for several reasons. I’m a Christian myself and I go to small rural church. Also I naturally gravitate to anything with a theological angle. The old adage of ‘write about what you know goes’ both ways as far as I’m concerned as I also like to read about what I know too.
In short, God Bomb is an excellent book. The tension of the siege situation bleeds from every page and I found myself torn between wanting to read the next chapter and needing to put it down because the tension was too much. The narrative is in first person, jumping between character’s different points of view. I usually find first person prose a bit pretentious, a tool to try to give prose more of an edge but with God Bomb this is absolutely necessary because the fast pace and the tension of the situation demand it. This also worked well with the Hunger Games series, books brimming with tension.
Kit also uses broken dialogue as an effective tool, sometimes starting conversations halfway through or not finishing them, a neat tool to show how distressed a character is as they collapse into near mental breakdown or sharply focus on action taking place somewhere else in the room. This technique is well used in the part of the story where one of the characters, Mike, is giving his testimony but never finishes. There is no second guessing the plotlines to this story either and Kit throws in some really unexpected curveballs as far as plot goes.
The realism in this book is absolutely spot on, achieved largely because the characters portrayed are so lifelike. As I said earlier I go to a small rural church myself in a not so small market town and I’ve met every one of these characters. Twitch, the alcoholic man in his in his mid 30’s can be found in my church as can Mike the sax player and the ordinary couple Peter and Emma. As a description of a ‘modern’ protestant church (It’s set 20 years ago but society hasn’t changed that much) the book is spot on. It’s how these characters interact under pressure which is the really interesting part. How they bare their souls and make their choices. The preacher seems like a genuinely nice man (perhaps I’m biased) and here a writer with an agenda could have painted him as a Bible-verse-spouting nutter but the beauty of God Bomb is that this character is allowed to a be a fully rounded human being with a range of emotions who is trying to do the right thing in his own eyes. The bomber himself is the most chillingly realised psychopath Iv’e read in a long time. His motives are driven by his fluctuating morality and he is utterly unhinged and unpredictable.
For me, the key strength of God Bomb is the power the book possesses to provoke thought. Quite simply it doesn’t preach to the reader. It doesn’t preach Christianity. It doesn’t preach atheism. It allows the reader to make up their own mind yet promps more questions as the story unfolds.
So, what other texts could God Bomb be compared to? Well, I thought God Bomb could almost fall into the religious fiction category (okay, some of the more conservative Christians might have a problem with the sheer amount of violence but this is about a psychopath holding a church to siege. It needs to be violent) Iv’e not read much modern Christian fiction (for example The Shack by William P. Young. Iv’e not been moved to pick it up) Iv’e read C.S. Lewis and Adrian Plass but that’s about it.
This book is a million miles away from those two writers: an academic and a comedy writer.
However, this did strongly remind me of the small biography of Cassie Barnell a girl murdered in one of the many high school shootings in the USA. The book was called She Said Yes: the Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Barnell by her mother Misty Bernall. Two heavily armed nihilistic youths walk into a school, begin shooting, find Cassie cowering under a desk. With guns pointed at her they ask her is she’s a Christian. Cassie replies in the affirmative and they shoot her dead on the spot. God Bomb is a ‘what if’. She Said Yes is a true story. Just because God Bomb is fiction this does not invalidate its content.
For me the book is close to the bone. Iv’e met some quite intense characters, Christian and non-Christian, in the church. People with quite extreme ideas making chilling verbal statements (Iv’e also met a lot of nice ordinary people in church, just for the record). I could easily imagine someone walking into a church with a bomb or a gun making the same statement that the bomber in the book makes. I could imagine it happening in my church. No one from outside would call the police because no one really knows what goes on on a Sunday morning in that funny old building opposite Costcutters just off the high street. These days someone inside might be able to text a message or make a phone call (I see one reason why Mr Power chose to set the book in 1995 when mobiles were few and far between). The church is often a target for the deluded yet the church is open for all to enter.
Of course attacks on churches have happened. Recently in America, in Charleston, a white supremacist walked into a church with a gun and opened fire. In 1999 a man walked in to St Andrews Roman Catholic church in Croydon one evening with a sword and attacked the congregation. My aunt was one of those people in that church. She relayed how she lay on the floor under a pew, a severed hand close to her face. She said that she tried to pray but couldn’t because she was so paralysed with fear.
God Bomb can’t be praised highly enough. Our world is still vastly influenced by religion. We live in the era of post 9/11, Islamic fundamentalism and the GOD channel. God bomb is a book of our age.