I have always wanted to read some Neil Gaiman by himself after reading the brilliantly funny ‘Good Omens’ he wrote with Terry Pratchett eleven years before ‘American Gods’. Prior that this I’d only associated Gaiman with comic books (‘Sandman’ specifically) and, in later years, Dr Who. Not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ or ‘lesser’ about comic novels and Dr Who episodes – it’s just that there’s only so much time in the day and my ‘To Read’ book list is long; so I’m careful about what I choose.
Nonetheless, ‘American Gods’ has been too widely praised and adored for me to ignore for long and I really did want to see just what part of ‘Good Omens’ was my beloved Pratchett (I adore all his books and not ashamed to admit it) and which part was Gaiman.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. ‘American Gods’ lacked the Pratchett humour even though much of it was light and witty. Gaiman isn’t a dry bore – his words delight and entertain – but he’s no Pratchett. However, the intriguingly deep characters and general ‘end-of-the-world’ doom is clearly Gaiman’s forte. Take the funny bits out of ‘Good Omens’ and you have pure Gaiman left behind. Or, at least, that’s my opinion anyway.
‘American Gods’, despite being a huge book, is incredibly easy to read. I don’t think I’ve ever read something so quickly for its size and that isn’t about a change in reading speed but pure excited interest. Unlike Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’ which I had to take in small doses because, though brilliant, it was utterly depressing, I adored reading ‘American Gods’. This was despite being a little wary with the opening character called ‘Shadow’. This seemed too comic book for me and I thought the plot might become a bit silly. It didn’t. Shadow was a character which grew on me with a chapter or so. Indeed, all the characters did. I think I may actually have fallen in love with one or two of them!
On the negative side, the plot – which details the coming war between the old gods of Europe brought to the New World and then forgotten, and the new gods of media and technology et al – was disappointingly obvious. I really did hope that a twist and turn in the tale would lead to a surprise. Even the scenes with Czernobog turned out to be exactly what I thought would happen. It’s sad because, despite the light and frivolous nature of Pratchett’s Discworld books, I don’t think I’ve ever really known where those plots are going and I’d hoped Gaiman was of the same calibre. This lack of originality then, knocks off a star in the rating for me.
But let me immediately counter this criticism with this: it doesn’t matter. The characters, the plot…the whole feel of the book…quite honestly it’s a total joy. I got to read the complete unabridged ten-year anniversary version which includes an appendix of a deleted scene and further thoughts from Gaiman himself. I loved it all. Every. Single. Word. Gaiman is a master storyteller regardless of the actual development of the plot. It is rare for me to fall into the lives of the characters so fast and easily but he seduced my mind and heart so easily I feel I was played like a sucker in one of Odin’s tricks.
There’s clearly room at the end for a sequel but, sixteen years on, I’m not sure Gaiman will do one. I haven’t seen the series so I don’t know if the TV version expands and takes the story further, but I’d like to think that somewhere this universe of Shadow and Mr Wednesday is still going on. I want these characters to live and not die as sacrifices to the god of pulp fiction. Therefore I dedicate this book review to Shadow…
Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!
Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org