Book review: The Savage God

I’m working on finishing up the 30 or so books I’m in the middle of. I’ll post quick reviews of each one here.

Review of: The Savage God, A. Alvarez

This was a study of suicide. It’s a little hard to say what kind of study. It didn’t examine it psychologically in any real depth. It didn’t go really deep into any kind of analysis.

Mostly, it surveyed the ways in which suicide was regarded in literature through the ages. As tangents of this focus, it also talked a little about how culture in general has viewed suicide, and spent some time considering the effect of suicide on the arts and of the arts on suicide.

The other main thing it did was to give moving accounts of Sylvia Plath’s suicide and of the author’s own suicide attempt.

The biggest thing I learned was that people who are drawn to suicide often find themselves sort of fascinated by it, but at the same time mostly they don’t want to do it. It’s just that in certain moods, they just about decide to, and the rest of the time they feel that, inevitably, sooner or later in one of those moods they will follow through. Also, they may sort of flirt with the idea of committing suicide, sort of play with it or plan for it or rehearse it or attempt it halfheartedly because doing so brings an important sense of relief to them.

How do I evaluate the book? I liked it. It had a friendly, conversational feel. It was an easy read. I didn’t get any epiphanies from it, but I feel like it made me aware of the topic. I would put it just over halfway on the 1-10 scale, perhaps but probably not worth re-reading.

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7 thoughts on “Book review: The Savage God

  1. I’ve never read this book, but your description of it made it sound too neutral on the topic. If someone were fascinated and did read this book would it only encourage their fascination or sense of inevitability or would it give them reasons to get help or decide against it?

    • Huh … I guess it was pretty neutral in tone, now that I think about it. But I don’t think it would hurt anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts. It’s just that it doesn’t feel like it’s even trying to offer solutions. It’s more of a description of what it’s like to be drawn to suicide than a prescription of how to deal with it.

      Maybe someone struggling with this stuff would be encouraged by hearing from someone else who understood the struggle.

      (My “reviews” will be pretty unbalanced, by the way. They reflect my personal reaction rather than a sober analysis. Someone else might have a completely different take on the same book.)

  2. Again, not having read the book, but based solely on your reaction,but without any desire to change your reaction…I would argue that some topics are destructive enough that covering them neutrally might be a bad idea: Racism, Child abuse, and possibly suicide as examples.

    Not trying to have a long argument, and I”m actually not arguing. Just reacting in an unbalanced way to your review. I think I’m done now 🙂

    • At first I agreed with you. On reflection I think I sort of agree with you.

      Somehow the fact that the author went through his own struggles with suicide makes a difference to me. I want to let him tell his story however he wants, without requiring that he tag it with a moral lesson.

      I want to say that certain topics shouldn’t be covered neutrally, but maybe it’s OK for us to distribute that responsibility among us, so to speak, so that one person give the facts while another supplies the passion. So “some topics are destructive enough that covering them neutrally might be a bad idea” but perhaps the question of whether they are covered neutrally depends on the whole stand that society, or the Christian church, takes on them.

      Now that I’ve said it that way, I realize that in his book he discusses what the appropriate societal response is. He spends a lot of time contrasting two wrong ways to respond to suicide as a society: a) making it the worst sin possible, or b) turning it into a mere statistical phenomenon. He wants to take the person struggling with suicide seriously, but he doesn’t want to vilify them. So maybe he takes more of a stand that I realized, and maybe the stand he takes is too tolerant.

  3. I’m doing my senior thesis on the harmful effects of the way suicide is treated in media, mainly literature, and this book is one that seems to come up a lot. Do you have any specific advise for how to approach this book from a Christian perspective while also taking into account culture and societal implications and responsibilities?

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