A guardian angel by the name of Arcade, after leaving heaven, discovers a vast library somewhere in Paris. Through his readings he discovers that much is to be admired about humans and that God is not as almighty or as all Awesome as we so far have assumed. Through his human charge, Arcade, the guardian angel discovers that earth's population is at least half made up of former angels. Acrade having discovered human knowledge and the limits of his creator sets out to bring about a revolt of those angels dwelling here on earth. But as angels do when they are no longer part of the heavenly abode they soon fall in love with our lowly customs and habits. If the earthly angels manage to take over heaven is for the reader to discover and I will not reveal much more.
Frans Anatole, as Somerset Maugham irritably noted in his imaginary autobiography: The Summing Up, was completely enamored with the language and writing style of the 18th century. Through the first couple of chapters the reader is perhaps slightly unnerved or confused since here and there the author hints at placing the book in contemporary times, meaning early 20th century. But when Anatole starts describing both cars, buses and sword duals in the same paragraphs things get a bit confusing. A saving grace throughout all this is a steady sense of humor, which ultimately carries the story. It does work, the story does work and it is difficult not to be pleased by the grace with which Frans Anatole describes complex issues. Religion is completely left out of this novel, impressive for a book that discusses the fate of God, the Devil, Humanity and a legion of miscellaneous angels. But it works, it does work. Anatole brings deities on our level without diminishing their important, their grace or their divinity. At the same time he shows us how we all in our own ways can be angelic.
With all the flowery language and choice of stuffy otherwise boring 18th century characters, it is interesting to wonder what would have happened if the setting had been more contemporary. Did Anatole's writing style hamper his message? Could he have won more than one Nobel prize, or are all the choices appropriate? Maybe we're too used to slick language designed to move the reader through at text as smoothly as possible. Perhaps Somerset Maugham would have liked this novel if it had been written in the style of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?