Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Not The End of The World by Geraldine McCaughrean

Basic plot summary for this one is easy! Everyone knows it anyway. God decides his word is corrupt and sends word to Noah that he is going to destroy it with a huge flood. Noah is the chosen one and need to build a boat big enough to keep him, his family and two of every living animal safe for forty days and nights. After his the flood will subside, the earth will be cleansed and it will be a devout holy place once again.

Well, I think that was the version I learnt as a child anyway. In Not The End Of The World, Geraldine McCaughrean has explored the details of what it might be like to have been cooped up on the Ark for that amount of time, as well as questioning the validity of a God who would destroy all of humanity, and drawing a picture of Noah as a fanatical religious patriarch with no empathy or compassion.

When I think about this biblical story, I never stopped to think that it might not have been a pleasant place to be. Life is portrayed as very basic, with it being cold, wet and smelly because of the animal manure, which at one point they use to keep warm. neither humans nor animals have enough food, so they all go hungry, which leads to disastrous events as the predatory animals on board only do what comes naturally to them.

One of the mos disturbing incidents in this book is when Ham and Shem are pushing drowning people off the Ark because they were not chosen to be saved. Whilst pushing them off with a staff, Ham shouts

"Get off! Get off! Leave Go! Its too late, I told you! It's your own fault!"

And whilst this is going on, Noah is

"Sat looking into the distance, his lips moving in prayerful devotion, completely given over to thanksgiving"

Noah seems to have total belief in Gods plan and total acceptance that they are superior to everyone else and that God will look after them. When the various calamities that befall them are solved god has intervened, it is never due to the efforts of his family.

This fatalistic attitude is balanced by Timna, Noah's teenage daughter. It is Timna that questions why God would do this to his creation, why he would want all these people to drown. She cannot question her father as she is brought up to believe her fathers word is final, so she struggles with all these doubts herself. She rescues a small boy and a baby from the flood and hides them in the animal hold, away from her father.

Timna also raises important questions about the validity of Gods plan. How can one family be expected to repopulate the earth alone? Where the male members of the family have total belief that God will destroy anyone who manages to survive on the flood waters, Timna believes others must survive, otherwise the continuation of the human race will not be possible. As Timna eventually discusses this with her mother towards the end of the book,

"And if survival is down to merit there must be better than us. Seeing the way we behaved to our fellow men. You were quite right Timna, there must be others. There are too many flaws in God's plan unless there are"

So, Noah as dutifully obeying God's commands to save the human race or fanatical, deluded cult leader. Interesting idea, and its worth reading just for a different perspective.

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