This post was edited and republished from my lost posts archive on my old blog
The Flood by David Maine
When I originally wrote the two posts I’ve combined into one here back in early April 2014 – the film Noah was just about to hit the big screens. I wrote a post about why I wouldn’t be going to see it, and how I found something far better to spend my time on…
Most Sunday mornings I listen to ‘Sunday’ on BBC Radio 4. I’m not religious, but this programme which features the religious and ethical news of the week, often presented by the lovely-voiced Edward Stourton is always fascinating. This week, they talked about Russell Crowe’s new film ‘Noah’. Ed asked the reviewer how the film compared to the bible. She replied – they share three things – ‘An ark, a flood and a man called Noah.‘ – I fell about laughing. I’m sorry, I can’t remember the lady’s name. After seeing the trailer the other week too, I have no desire whatsoever to see the film at the cinema, however epic they make it!
But I did go straight to my bookcase, and found a gem that I’d obviously been saving for the occasion … The Flood by David Maine, pub back in 2004. I want to share the first paragraph with you, because I think this book is going to be an absolute hoot:
Noe glances toward the heavens, something he does a lot these days. Scanning for clouds. None visible amid the stars, so he finishes urinating, shakes himself dry and makes his way back to the house. Inside, the wife pokes desultorily at a pot of stew hanging over a fire. It is late for supper: the others have eaten already and retired to the sleeping room. Noe squats against one of the rough lime-washed walls and points at a terracotta bowl. He’s roughly six hundred years old: words are unnecessary.
Noe goes on to tell his wife about his vision. When she asks how they’ll be taking this ship to the sea. Noe replies, “We’ll not be going to the sea. The sea will be coming to us.” She pauses, quietly accepts things, and carries on…
And now here’s the review of a book I found to be a delight from start to finish:
You all know the basic story so I won’t bother with that – and Maine remains true to the essential narrative in Genesis (chapters 6-9 plus the begats in chapter 10), indeed many of the chapters are prefixed with the appropriate verse from the bible. Where this book really succeeds is in how Maine fills the basic tale out, so we get the back stories of Noah/Noe’s three sons, Shem, Ham and Japhet (here called Sem, Cham and Japeth), and their wives. The three sons are very different – Sem, the oldest is the stay at home farmer and married to Bera, Cham is a shipbuilder who lives by the sea married to Ilya, Japeth is only sixteen (with a fourteen-year-old wife Mirn), and thus being still a teenager needs his sleep, or is lazy depending on how you look at it.
Genesis 6.4 says “There were giants in the earth in those days,” and Maine takes this phrase literally, having Noe visit the giants to ask for help in supplying the gopher wood and pitch needed to build the ark, and we get a poignant moment:
The dimpled one, not smiling now asks, If we are to be destroyed, then why should we help you?
For a moment Noe wonders how to answer. Then something tells him.
– So you are not forgotten forever, he says. – So that when we survive to tell our story, and our sons and grandsons do the same, your memory will live on within us.
No one speaks for a while then, while the sun rains down on everything.
The chapters alternate between the different voices with Noe, his wife, the sons and their wives all taking their turns to move the story on. I particularly liked Ilya and Bera, the wives of Sem and Cham who are sent north and south respectively, back towards their homelands to collect animals. Both are strong independent women, Ilya especially:
Men are so amusing. Show them a pack of wolves, dominated by the males, and they will say, See? It is natural for men to rule.
Fine. But produce a beehive, controlled by the queen, with males used for menial labor, and they protest, Human beings are not insects.
Show them a she-cat nursing her kittens, and they will say: Ah ha! Women are meant to care for the children. But remind them that that same cat ruts fifty different males in a three-day heat, and they will answer, Would you have us live like animals?
Noe however is weak and indecisive, but he is six hundred years old. It’s actually amazing that everything comes together, the ark gets built, the supplies get loaded, the animals arrive – and then the rain comes and they’re away.
They settle down to life on board the ark. Noe’s wife cooking, Cham checking the boat, Japeth being seasick or rutting his wife (rutting being Maine’s preferred term). Ilya and Bera look after the animals mainly. As for Noe, he gets ill after staying on deck for a week – and Sem stays by his side praying. It may rain for (just) forty days and forty nights, but it will be weeks more before the waters start to recede. Life on board gets very smelly and cramped, Sem updates us:
The whole ship is starting to crumble. There are lizards sunning themselves up on deck with the birds. A drowned rabbit in one of the water barrels. A tortoise in the family cabin one morning, two cubits across at least. How on earth did a tortoise climb the ladder, I would like to know…
We try and keep things in their places but it’s not easy. There are spiders in every corner, salamanders between the boards, tadpoles in the drinking water. Raccoons have claimed one corner of the chicken stall, while Japheth and Mirn have taken to sleeping in the chryalis room. What next? Cham and Bera in the elephant stall, I suppose. Mother and Father with the baboons. Everything is starting to break down, the barriers are coming unglued. Any way you look at it, this is not a good sign.
One thing I really loved about this book was that it wasn’t a satire; it did respect its source material, yet added to it in a way that was supportive, even introducing a moment or two reflecting our modern knowledge about the evolution of the earth and all its creatures. It is whimsical and funny – never before has a family had so many pets to care for. As we’ve seen, it also has many moving moments especially as Noe’s faith is tested, and his wife (never named) is always there to ground him.
The Flood was Maine’s first novel (published as ‘The Preservationist’ in the US in 2004). He’s gone on to write two more biblical-themed books and a handful of others. I’d definitely like to read more. (9/10)
Source: Own copy.
The Flood by David Maine (2004), Canongate paperback, 259 pages.