“Alvarez's classic book, "The Savage God," examines the religious, sociological, philosophical and literary aspects of suicide through the ages. In pagan Rome, suicide was habitual and considered an honorable way to die. In the Middle Ages, suicide was regarded with revulsion as a mortal sin. Dante, in his "Inferno," consigned suicides to the seventh circle of hell, below the burning heretics and murderers. Later on, the Romantics associated premature death with genius and they admired people who ended their lives while they were still at their artistic peak. Throughout history, mankind has viewed suicide as everything from an unforgivable crime of self-murder to the sad act of a person for whom living has become intolerable.
In a more personal vein, Alvarez discusses the fascinating poet Sylvia Plath, with whom he was acquainted, as well as his own depression and attempted suicide. The section on Plath is superb. Alvarez was fond of Plath and he admired her work greatly. He reveals in a clear-eyed manner how the forces tearing her apart were stronger than those holding her together.
"The Savage God" is an absorbing look at a subject often spoken of in whispers. Alvarez points out that people who lose parents at an early age are more likely to take their own lives. He also examines in depth the strong and mysterious link between creative genius and the impulse toward suicide. "The Savage God" is a work that sheds welcome light on the human condition in all of its complexity, yet Alvarez never presumes to provide easy answers to questions that are ultimately unanswerable.”