Review of American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I have been a long time fan of Neil Gaiman.  His humour, his hollywood good looks (yes I hope Neil reads this), and his quirky sense of the surreal and the sublime.  Good Omens was one of my favourites for many years and I met him at a convention in Melbourne in 2005 which only reinforced my love for all things Gaiman. 

I loved Stardust, I loved Coraline and I was ecstatic when he won the Hugo award for American Gods.  but somehow I never got around to reading it.  Oh I had every intention, there were many times I would borrow it from the library, or look at it in a bookshop and think, Oh I should get that, it’s bound to be good reading, and I would look at the blurb and think, maybe later.  It wasn’t until just this week that I actually got around to reading the book everybody always told me was worth the reading.

Let me just say from the start that everybody else was right.  This is certainly a great read.  As a wannabe writer, but one who never seems to ever get any words on a page, whether through lack of imagination or lack of confidence in one’s self, or, dare I say it, a lack of talent, I am constantly amazed and very often jealous at the sheer imagination and talent of some authors out there.

American Gods is a tour de force in mythology.  Whether Gaiman knew about these gods in advance and simply slotted them in to his story or whether he did copious amounts of research I am unsure and certainly couldn’t be bothered looking it up (maybe that is my problem – although this column is called confessions of a lazy girl after all), but the sheer amount of different mythologies involved boggles the mind.

While I was reading this I was immersed in a world of gods and mythological creatures, from the All Father, Odin to kobolds and the Fates.  They were all there, and reminders of tales I had read in the past.  How glorious was the thought that early settlers brought their gods with them when they moved to a new country.  How shivery was the feeling that the cause of all those missing children was through sacrifice to an entity so that life could be nice and pleasant, without the misery of the surrounding towns descending into high unemployment and obscurity.

I was particularly taken with the almost pathetic reality of these former gods as they became lost in obscurity, but never really dying, having to hold down day jobs as they are no longer worshipped, becoming grifters and criminals, or whores, or comedians (still not quite sure who he was referencing in that brief moment).  It is, to me, a comment on the fickleness of fame, and the fickleness of man.  What can be worshipped by the masses in one moment, is forgotten in the next.  Even the modern gods, those of Media and Technology and mysterious government agencies, were worried about the length of their time as gods and how long they would remain supreme before even more modern gods took their place.

The meandering journey of the mysterious Mr Wednesday and Shadow, his human assistant (who are the two main protagonists of the book) through small town America to find all the old gods and call them to war, was a fascinating montage of the quirky and the tacky.  How many of those places mentioned were actually real I don’t know, but Gaiman was quick to point out at the start of the book that he wouldn’t recommend trying to recreate the journey as a lot of it was in his imagination.  (And what an imagination that is – yes I really want Neil to read this).

Reading about the city on the Rock and all the tacky fairy tale figures carved out of stone, and visitors wondering after their visit what they were really doing there reminded me of many a visit to some tourist attraction where I began to think why on earth was this a tourist attraction?  I think that was another reason why I loved this book.  Gaiman’s way of bringing you into a story, even one with such a fantastical plot, and making you feel that you could relate to the main character, (although really why he didn’t boggle more once he figured out the secret is beyond me), was incredibly well done.  Although there weren’t as many belly laughs as I was expecting, Gaiman being an incredibly witty writer and tweeter (again – yes I am hoping he reads this), there was a black humour behind it all that was subtle but apparent (did that sentence even make sense?).

I am glad I came late to this book as I now know there is another, Anansi Boys, which I will happily chase down and read as well.  I haven’t really gone into the plot of this book as most of the people who read this (if any and hopefully one of them Neil) will have either already read it, be familiar with the plot, or if not, can look it up on Wikipedia, where they go to so much trouble to ruin it for everyone by rehashing the whole story. (That is a rant for another day!)

I hope to hear some recommendations from others on books that should be read, that I have somehow missed or never got around to, like this gem of a novel that should be on everyone’s must read list.