What a curious little book. I found this quite by accident as I was visiting my mother for a weekend; it was sticking just that much out of place in a tumbled jungle of oversized children’s books stuffed into the wicker bookshelf devoted to the lending library for my niece and nephews. It isn’t really a kids’ book at all, this discourse on Mister God, and I’m not sure what it was doing there, but its title caught my eye and away we went.
The general plot is that young man Fynn discovers runaway child Anna in first-half-of-20th-century London. She decides he’s her new family, which he eventually accepts, so he takes her home to his mum and larger family as a sort of adorable stray. Fortunately, he has the kind of family that is okay with that.
Thus begins all of Anna’s musings on the character, place, and relationship of “Mister God,” as she calls Him. She’s fascinating as a character, looking at the divine as a precocious and brazen six-year-old. The book calls itself non-fiction, a based-on-a-true-story theme, and that’s interesting if it’s true. One of the great things about this book is that it doesn’t really matter. You aren’t quite sure what year it is (at least, not until toward the end), and that’s okay. If they weren’t real people, that’s okay. If the author never gives his last name, that’s okay—because it’s not about any of those things, because it’s not really that kind of story.
It’s theology. Theology is so much fun, because really theology is just “yakking about God” with a top hat on. And a lot of Anna’s theology is whack because, well, she’s six. A very intelligent and philosophical six, but six nonetheless. And while I may not agree with some of where she gets, I don’t belittle that point of reference; I want to laud it, because Anna has not yet aged out of determined wonder. She thinks hard, and delights in the thinking and the knowing and even the unknowing, which is difficult to do as we get older. We start thinking God has to make sense as we understand sense, and even when we acknowledge that’s not true we make the unsensible parts of God the ones we don’t really have to deal with in day-to-day activities. As the old joke goes, “God created man in His image—shortly thereafter, man returned the favor.” Anna, though; Anna rejoices in the weird bigness of God.
In this, she drags us—via Fynn—along for the ride, showing us how we know “squillions” of things and how God is in our middles because we are in His, how God’s love is so much bigger than our idea of love and how we can’t love Him or anyone else until we’re “full up” in an understanding of loving ourselves. For Anna, God and His universe are things to be questioned, probed, marveled at, delighted in, remembered, learned, unlearned.
This is a deceptively fast read because it’s easy to get lost in that curiosity; I know I’ll go back and re-read it in some later year and mull it over. (Apparently, there’s also a sequel that I’ll have to track down.) Also, in terms of story building, yes, the relationship between Fynn and Anna does give off a sort of Lolita vibe at the beginning. Fynn acknowledges in various spots that it is a strange and societally unacceptable friendship, but certainly not that. It’s more “bemused fellow wayfarer” mixed with “older brother.” And it works; it works by giving us as readers a place to be uncomfortable with the direct matter-of-factness of Anna, and by giving us an outlet for the various emotions she can cause.
The book begins and ends rather abruptly, and spoiler alert, the ending isn’t terribly cheerful. The beginning tells you it won’t be, so at least you have warning. But the in-between…the in-between is “full up,” and a wondrous thing that is.
Rating: 4/5 stars