In a series of long essays, James Wood examines the connection between literature and religious belief, in a startlingly wide group of writers. Wood re-appraises the writing of such figures as Thomas More, Jane Austen, Herman Melville, Anton Chekhov, Thomas Mann, Nikolai Gogol, Gustave Flaubert and Virginia Woolf, vigorously reading them against the grain of received opinion, and illuminatingly relating them to questions of religious and phiosophical belief.
Contemporary writers, such as Martin Amis, Thomas Pynchon and George Steiner, are also discussed, with the boldness and attention to language that have made Wood such an influential and controversial figure. Writing here about his own childhood struggle to believe, Wood says that 'the child of evangelism, if he does not believe, inherits nevertheless a suspicion of indifference'. Wood brings that suspicion to bear on literature itself. The result is a unique book of criticism.