Winner of the Whitbread Children's Book Award 2004
All aboard for the ride of your life, a mystery cruise into the unknown! But this is no luxury cruise liner, this is Noah's Ark — and it certainly isn't all aboard: it's the chosen few, Noah's family, the righteous saved from the wrath of God... and the animals went in, two by two.
But did they? How many animals really turned up when somehow they got wind of the impending disaster? How many were brutally culled on the ship's ramps? And exactly how righteous were Noah and his family? What happened to Noah's neighbours? And what kind of God is this, who sentences the human race — the race he created — to death?
This is an astonishing and superb retelling of the story of Noah's Ark and whilst it's presented as a children's story, anyone would do well to read it. It's a story that isn't afraid of difficult questions and which doesn't offer simplistic answers — instead it takes you up in the turbulence and horror of a disaster too big to comprehend and carries you into the heart of a family desperately struggling to follow its leader, to do the right thing when everything's gone wrong.
This year, the year after the Asian Tsunami, it's an especially powerful story. With those images of that tidal wave and its devastation in mind you'll begin to grasp the nightmare — and perhaps, whatever your previous response to that disaster, you'll be moved to respond again.
Most of the story is told from a child's perspective, Timna, Noah's daughter. "Timna?" you ask — there's no Timna in the biblical story. Of course not: she's a girl. Girls don't get into the histories, as Timna herself observes at the beginning. Until now.
Timna is nobody's fool. She won't accept the status quo, won't accept that everyone else has to die: she knows her brothers and she knows the limits of their supposed righteousness. This is no detached observer, no outsider's documentary: this is the inside track. You'll smell the stench of the animals, of the manure, of fly-blown meat. You'll feel the darkness and dankness in the ship's hold, hear the sounds, experience the fear and see the terror of those left behind. And you'll experience the relief and agony of an illicit rescue that brings a couple of stowaways aboard. Will they be found? What will happen if they are? Will going against her father bring ruin upon the whole enterprise?
The final message that emerges from the story is that it's God's world: nothing about his world takes him by surprise. And whatever destruction may come upon the world, those whom God has seen fit to rescue haven't been rescued for their own benefit.
If there's a Noah's Ark sailing around the world today, I dare suggest that it's the Church. Like McCaughrean's Ark, it's full of leaks, it's tossed about in the storms, and some people on board are so obsessed with their own righteousness and purity that they'll push other survivors away to drown. It has stowaways on board, people hiding them, terrified they'll be discovered and thrown overboard. But it also has others on board who won't stand by and watch this happen, who are throwing out lifelines to the drowning. It's not the end of the world — and if you're on board this ship, you can't afford to ignore this story.
Phil Groom, May 2005
Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.