After the Second World War, England was gripped by a weird religious mania. The church-going majority turned on unbelievers, first ostracising them, then resorting to violence before, at last, instituting a programme of forced deportation. All sceptics and free-thinkers were sent into exile, shipped to a distant island. This, at least, is the alternative version of history that is imagined by Naomi Wood in her first novel, The Godless Boys, which begins – in a sly refashioning, perhaps, of the opening of The Wicker Man – with the arrival of a Christian girl upon this atheistic isle.
There are many stories that Wood might have told in her elaborate, fitfully plausible world but the one that she has chosen – about the consequences of a tentative love affair between the naive visitor and a secularist skinhead (‘there might be so much God in her veins