I was sitting in a Religious Education class, as a sort of observer, and the teacher was explaining the nature of revealed religion, based on holy writ of some kind. A clever girl asked whether any old book might not become the basis for a religion and, because I know the plot, I mentioned this book as an example of just that concept and decided, at the same time, that I should read it. If you are going to mention a book to a class of 15 year olds, I reckon you ought to have read it, so I realised I needed to address the lacuna in my reading experience.

It is quite a long novel, weighing in at about 500 pages. Too long, in fact, and that would be my main criticism. There are a lot of wasted words and Self does like to show off his learning.

The story concerns a London taxi driver who has a messed up life and then a breakdown, leading him to write a book of deranged ravings, get it printed on metal pages, then bury it in the garden of his estranged wife. The book is discovered hundreds of years later and becomes the basis of a religion, which in turn creates a society based on prejudice, ignorance and misogyny.

It is all a bit too clever and I doubt the book would be enjoyed by people who do not know London quite well and cannot appreciate the many ironies, which relate to fairly esoteric aspects of London life and history. I found it dragged a bit, with parallel storylines, one set in the present and one in a dystopian future, both of them too spun out.

The most moving parts of the book concern animals, rather than people, which may well be deliberate on the part of the author. It is a many-layered and intriguing book – just a bit prolix.

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