The Flood, by David Maine

God rains over everything in Genesis tale
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The Independent Culture

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. But, these days, everyone is getting in on the act. Genesis, that book of stories to end all stories, with its fratricide, rape, polygamy and incest, has inspired more than one novelist. Take Jenny Diski's excellent Only Human, with its witty spin to an awkward love triangle and a bemused God competing with Sarah for Abraham's affection. Now David Maine has relaunched the ark.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. But, these days, everyone is getting in on the act. Genesis, that book of stories to end all stories, with its fratricide, rape, polygamy and incest, has inspired more than one novelist. Take Jenny Diski's excellent Only Human, with its witty spin to an awkward love triangle and a bemused God competing with Sarah for Abraham's affection. Now David Maine has relaunched the ark.

Maine writes about events rather than characters, catching something of the Old Testament's arbitrary quality. His Noe is a 600-year-old patriarch with a direct line to Yahweh, the kind of wild-haired cult leader you might have found painted by hippies on the wall of a squat. Before, during and after the deluge, Noe's wife, his sons (Sem, Cham and Japheth) and their uncomplaining wives (Bera, Ilya and Mirn) all take turns at telling the story. Noe alone never talks directly to the reader.

Once the ark gets going, it's a bit like a floating commune, with family dynamics severely tested in this cramped, boring and dangerous place. The three sons are hard-working craftsmen and farmers. But it is the women, with their intelligent and astute observations, who probe for deeper meanings. Men have visions; women notice the way things really are. Their experience of the world and its horrors is greater than that of their menfolk.

Noe's wife was 13 and he was celebrating his fifth centenary when they married. Soon she's hip to the best way of managing him. Bera, an African sold as a child slave, remains detached, thoughtful. The Nordic Ilya, raised in the worship of fierce goddesses, comes on like a proto-feminist, while Mirn, still a girl, has an empirical approach to life. She sees God in the small things - two snakes mating, or a spider's web.

Conversational and ironic, the narrative zips along and the dialogue is often anachronistically funny. When Noe asks a pedlar to look out for building materials, the man answers that "I'm switching to luxury goods. Fatter margins on silk and spices and bangles and wine." In every Bible story there are resonances, and Maine is careful not to hammer them home. But when Ilya questions whether the seas are rising and wonders why she, rather than others, escaped the terrible death beneath mountain-high waters, our own nightmares (global warming; apocalyptic destruction) are not far away.

This is a fluid and fluent book, easily read in one sitting. Pulsing with energy, it gives us an earth where everything seems rudely alive - rutting, farting, surviving. Noe's family do not know why Yahweh sent the flood. Maybe it was simply because he could. As Mirn concludes: God reigns over everything. Or is it that he rains over everything? God, as ever, has the first and last word.

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