Though I'm not a religious person, I do enjoy reading books that ponder religious themes, especially if done in an interesting and imaginative way. Mr g piqued my interest straight away, and I got myself a copy as soon as I read the synopsis.
The titular protagonist and narrator is god (I'm sticking with a small g!) and the story begins with his existence in the void and his idea that it might be a nice diversion to create something. Not that Mr g's life in the void is entirely without distractions. He has company in the shape of his aunt Penelope and his uncle Devi, both of whom are supportive and encouraging of his plans for creation. He begins by establishing the principles of time and then proceeds by creating an almost infinite number of universes, though it turns out that universes on their own aren't all that interesting - they need physics and matter to come alive. Aunt Penelope persuades her nephew to concentrate his attention on one universe in particular, which he names Aalam-104729, and to see what he can make of it.
When god creates some laws of physics and some basic atoms, things start to happen in Aalam-107429. Stars appear, much to the delight of Aunt Penelope, who wants to take some back to the void to make herself a new dress. Later, planets begin to orbit those stars, and in time some of those planets develop life. It's all quite fascinating to the three higher beings, though they are disconcerted to find that all this creation has had another, unforseen effect, and that suddenly there's someone new in the void with them.
In many ways this book was a delight. It's so refreshing to read something quite different from the things I usually read, and I found parts of Mr g quite beautiful as god looked down and pondered all the fantastic things he had created. It certainly makes your own little life feel insignificant! Alan Lightman obviously knows his science, and there were a few moments where my eyes glazed over as difficult physics was being explained. That's OK though; the fact that I didn't understand some of it helped to keep an air of mystery that is necessary in a book like this.
The characters of Uncle Devi and Aunt Penelope were a tad problematic for me. How can god possibly have an aunt and uncle? That would imply that he has parents (who are not mentioned in the novel), and if he has parents then he was created, which means that something must have existed before him. The reader needs to just accept and gloss over this aspect of the story, but when most of the book is carefully plotted to "work" scientifically and philosophically, the aunt and uncle thing did rather stick out for me.
Most of the time, god and his relations seem very human and not at all awe-inspiring or magnificent. For instance, Aunt Penelope enjoys gathering up pieces of the void to decorate her hair (how on earth a void can be gathered or serve as decoration is unclear), and she's something of a naggy wife to poor Uncle Devi, who is much more spiritual and certainly closer to my idea of what a god should be like. The book is, in parts, an amusing family comedy, but it can quite suddenly take a turn for the profound in places - a device that worked surprisingly well.
I loved the way Mr g took the religious belief in a benevolent creator and made it work in the same scenario as a scientific belief in theories of physics. Though this is a story of creation, Mr g is not God as we know him from Bible stories. There is no Adam and Eve, no burning bush, no Jesus and no Heaven and Hell. There is a kind of devil figure, but he too is a long way from being the old horned monster we know from Sunday school. In a way Mr g is a kind of Everygod - vaguely recognisable to almost any world religion but different enough that nobody should read this book and feel offended.
I could be wrong, but I think that a religious person and an ardent atheist could both read this and gain a little understanding of each other's point of view and how their beliefs might coexist. That alone is a pretty amazing thing for any book to do, and a very good reason to recommend it. Four stars.