God was given a hard time recently in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, coming over as little more than a washed-up irrelevance. But that treatment looks benign compared to the way Meg Rosoff pulverises him (Him?) in her latest young-adult novel.
Observing how life on the planet has never worked as well as it might, she concludes – at least for the purpose of this story – that the whole thing was, in fact, created by a spoiled and self-pitying 19-year-old named Bob, appointed against his will and losing interest after the first week. The only person still trying to make things run smoothly, while occasionally answering the odd prayer, is Mr B, Bob's anxious and over-worked private secretary. But nothing really matters for "skinny, arrogant, dimwit" Bob except satisfying his carnal desires when any mortal stirs up his lustful attention. It's not a plot designed to find favour in today's faith schools.
Bob also has a gambling and hard-drinking mother more in the spirit of classical mythology rather than any sort of Christianity. She loses Bob's odd, penguin-shaped pet Eck in a poker game, and his young master is put out to hear that this small, greedy animal is soon to be eaten by its new owner. But then Bob happens upon Lucy, a vision of loveliness and innocence working on earth as a zoo-keeper.
Deciding to court her, Bob in his mounting passion sets off answering floods and storms. Lucy is attracted to this tall stranger, whose deep-set eyes, normally "glazed over from too much sleep or self abuse", now glow with intensity. But there is something alarming about the way he disappears at will. She finally finds someone more suitable while Bob is packed off to another planet, Eck is saved and Mr B takes over as a much better God.
This intelligent and at times angry satire works well until the last few pages, where too much happens too quickly. Bob as a character is also so irredeemingly unpleasant that his company can be hard work. Rosoff's determinedly unholier-than-thou approach has occasional moments of coarseness too, and there are inconsistencies: she twice uses the word "filthy" to describe teenage sexual fantasies while elsewhere writing lyrically about early erotic experience. But these are minor cavils. Rosoff is a brave and uncompromising novelist, with an excellent track record for writing edgy, uncomfortable but memorable stories. This latest effort is certainly all of those.