Tuesday, 1 December 2015

When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow by Dan Rhodes Review

World famous atheist and evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins, accompanied by his male secretary Smee, is going to the quiet English village of Upper Bottom to give a talk to the Women’s Institute. Unfortunately heavy snow leaves them stranded in the nearby town of Market Horten and forces them to lodge with a retired vicar and his wife. Let battle commence! 

Though the main character of this book is a real person, this is absolutely a work of comedic fiction. Dan Rhodes’ novel satirises the new atheist movement and especially its figurehead who’s written as a heavily amplified version of the real thing: an intensely smug, proselytizing atheist, who is incredibly rude to everyone he meets. The Professor’s demeanour coupled with his assistant’s name (which isn’t really Smee) is meant to put the reader in mind of a cartoonish villain like Captain Hook and that's what we get! 

It’s basically a one-joke book where the Professor bad temperedly reiterates that there is no god to every person who he comes into contact with, so even if you found that funny the first time, it wears thin pretty quickly. A lot of the jokes don’t really land either: Dawkins is obsessed with Deal or No Deal, the vicar’s wife confuses scientific terms like humanitarianism and humanism, and the Professor wonders if he should put a pregnant cat through a wrangler to spare it the pain of giving birth(!). 

Rhodes also makes a couple of banal observations like how the internet has connected everyone and yet isolated more than a few, as well the comparison of Dawkins’ unshakeable belief to those of a religious zealot’s, without exploring these ideas further. 

That said, it’s a quick read, so it doesn’t outstay its welcome and become a bore, and it’s also a pretty decent story too. Rhodes writes the Christians in this book as people perfectly willing to accommodate Dawkins’ non-beliefs, appearing more tolerant than he, perhaps as a reaction to numerous representations in the media of Christians as brainwashed extremists ranting and waving crosses around.

I’m not religious - believe whatever you want just don’t bother me or use it as an excuse to hurt anyone - but Dawkins strikes me as an abrasive, unlikeable chap in real life, as well as in this novel, even if I agree with most of what he says. In the words of The Dude to his friend Walter in The Big Lebowski, “You’re not wrong, Walter, you’re just an asshole!” Still, his character in this book is a lively presence throughout even if you want to give him a slap on more than one occasion! 

Dan Rhodes’ novel though has its charms. When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow might not be anywhere near as funny as the blurbs would have you believe (as if they ever are!), nor is it a particularly gripping read but it’s a gently enjoyable farce refreshingly lampooning atheists for a change with an amusing larger-than-life main character.

When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow

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