*I received a free copy of this book, with thanks to the author and Eye and Lightning Books. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: An atheist comedy featuring God and a confused young man from Hackney.
When gay, pleasure-seeking Stefano Cartwright is almost killed by a wave while at the beach, his journey up a tunnel of light convinces him that God exists after all, and he may need to change his ways if he is not to end up in hell. When God happens to look down his celestial telescope and see Stefano, he is obliged to pay unprecedented attention to an obscure planet in a distant galaxy, and ends up on the greatest adventure of his multi-eon existence.
The Hurtle of Hell combines a tender, human story of rejection and reconnection with an utterly original and often very funny theological thought-experiment, in an entrancing fable that is both mischievous and big-hearted.
Told in alternating accounts from Stefano, his boyfriend Adam and God – with some other characters view points added as the story progresses – The Hurtle of Hell is a light-hearted look at some serious, very real, issues of identity, guilt and depression.
Via a near-fatal drowning, Stefano gets an accidental glimpse at God, which is a problem for Stefano as he is a proud atheist, gay, and it turns out that while he didn’t believe in God, he did believe that God would disapprove of his life. This revelation plunges Stefano into a crisis of faith that affects his relationships, his job, and sends him plummeting into a severe mental health crisis.
Even more startling, perhaps, was that God got an accidental glimpse of Stefano, which resulted in more of a practical crisis, requiring his personal intervention on Earth. His side of the story carries more of the comedic aspects, to counterpoint Stefano’s agonies, with his repeated attempts to retrieve his errant artefact and get back to passively watching from afar.
Entertaining and easy-to-read, this atheist exploration of religious belief (or vice versa, in God’s case) highlights the terrible loneliness, self-doubt and prejudice that people can face when their identities don’t align with their upbringing, their own belief systems, or society’s expectations. The author also notes the harm that can be caused by careless actions and/or lack of communication. I found myself amused while reading, but soberly contemplative on after-reflection.
Not a book for anyone looking for a story about God and religion, but for those looking for a very human story of doubt, despair and the hope of self-acceptance.
Stefano must have blacked out. When he came round, he was looking down on an agitated crowd. They were clustered around something lying on the dark, wet sand, just clear of the waves. At the centre of the gathering crouched a squat, middle-aged man in improbably tiny Speedos, buttocks in the air. Bent over the body of a pale young man, he was trying to give him the kiss of life. The poor bastard, thought Stefano uncharitably. He would get a shock if he came round to find that guy sucking his face.– Simon Edge, The Hurtle of Hell
Craning to get a better look, it occurred to him that the stricken swimmer’s candy-striped trunks looked familiar. Now he realised that so was the body, which was shamefully pallid compared to all the bronzed onlookers. It was superficial to be so critical, but Stefano had every right, because that was his own body he was looking down at. That was him, lying there on the beach.
The Hurtle of Hell is available on Amazon now.