The English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said that the Book of Job was proof that the Bible was written by man and not by God — “for no God would have invented such a self-incriminating story.” The significant word here might be “story.” The Job story stands not only at the center of theodicy, but at the center of nineteenth-century biblical criticism, and that movement’s discovery that the bible is made up of constructed narratives. The Book of Job is indeed closer to story, to fable, to tale, than perhaps any other book in the Bible. I shall look at Job as a narrative, and will also look at the use made of Job by other narratives — principally by that modern secular form, the novel. Is there some necessary connection between the rebellious blasphemy of the Job story and narrative itself? Is there some deep connection between theodicy (and anti-theodicy) and narrative? I think there is, and will try to suggest why.
James Wood has been a staff writer and book critic at The New Yorker since 2007 and is Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard University. He was the chief literary critic at the Guardian, in London, from 1992 to 1995, and a senior editor at The New Republic from 1995 to 2007. His critical essays have been collected in two volumes, The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief (1999) and The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel (2004), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of a novel, The Book Against God (2003), and a study of technique in the novel, How Fiction Works (2008), recently translated into German as Die Kunst des Erzählens (2011).