The God Painter (Jessica Pegis)

Paperback copy of 'The God Painter' by Jessica Pegis

I’m not sure that I’ve ever read anything quite like this before. Yet it felt very familiar, as if, even if I hadn’t read something like it in the past, I ought to have done.

The God Painter opens with an unexpected but remarkably ordered evacuation of the inhabitants of Earth – all the people, all the pets – and their arrival on a new planet where they are welcomed by seven strange beings. The two principal characters are something of an odd couple: a lesbian painter who immediately recreates the Torre dei Lamberti to make her new house, and a grieving widower with mixed feelings about his role as Vatican consultant.

And yes, the Vatican still exists. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is taken care of, which leaves the population to carry on with whatever it was doing before: for example, engaging in theological debate about the human body and what it ought and ought not to do. Which is a debate that has got slightly more complicated with the encounter with their new hosts, whose bodies are not very much like human bodies. And the different ways that the various participants engage with the new evidence felt all too plausible. The backdrop might have changed, but human nature hasn’t.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the worldbuilding, or by the necessity for a whole new planet in which to conduct the experiment, but that’s a nitpick. The lush otherworldliness of it might be its own excuse. As a whole, the book worked. I didn’t see the last twist coming at all, though now I know it seems obvious.

I wasn’t quite sure how neatly it was going to fit into my LGBTQ Christian fiction recommendations, and now that I’ve finished it I can’t quite explain how it does, but you’ll just have to trust me.

The God Painter is a strange and lovely book, with a bittersweet ending. Recommended for those who enjoy a fantastical element in their religious politics and a metaphysical edge to their sci-fi.

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