After moving with his wife and two children to a smallholding in Ireland, the Man Booker finalist expects to find contentment. Instead he finds that his tools as a writer are failing him, forcing him to question his foundational beliefs about language and setting him at odds with culture itself.
On the surface, the writing deals with the author trying to make sense of his need to belong to something meaningful, his desire to connect with an older reality tied to the earth. Right underneath that, however, are a series of other questions that wriggle around like termites inside the wood of Kingsnorth's heart: What does it mean to belong? Can we connect to culture in a world where there is none? Can words truly communicate life? ... Ultimately, Savage Gods is a beautiful, intelligent, extremely poetic book about a writer dissecting his thoughts and feelings on the page without the protective layer of fiction.
This is not a manifesto — that kind of verbal strong-arming was first to go when he threw out the words. Like all the best books, it’s a wail sent up from the heart of one of the intractable problems of the human condition: real change comes only from crisis, and crisis always involves loss. The real change we need is to stop imposing ourselves on the planet, in deed and, possibly, in word. The real change we need is to learn to listen and to be. For Kingsnorth, the cost of this change is a perhaps temporary loss of language. For the world at large, the cost will be mass death. It has already begun. The question is, by trying to stop it, do the rest of us mitigate the problem, or hinder humanity from learning the lessons we need to learn? ... Whatever you think of Kingsnorth, there are few writers as raw or brave on the page. Savage Gods is an important book, and one that could come only from him, which makes it all the more wrenching that we don’t know whether there’ll ever be another. He won’t read this, so I’ll shout it at his back as he wanders into the wordless wild: thank you for the words.
The task is almost impossible, though in the throes of anguish the author produces a book filled with words. But the pain it causes him is palpable to the reader ... These repeated attempts are extraordinary and revealing, even when they read as forced experiments, cop-outs, and unnecessary apologies, ultimately creating tensions among the author, his work, and his readers ... This book provides a startling and instructive account of an uncommonly creative consciousness in a state of profound doubt.