Book 4: Neil Gaiman: American Gods

November 18, 2008 at 9:43 pm (Review) (, , , )

Lordy, this has been a pain in the arse. I loved this book and as a result it is nearly impossible for me to say anything constructive about it. It seems that intelligently told stories of gods and people reduce me to moron. I love it, I love it. Seriously I love it. I apologise now for the slightly disjointed nature of this review. I’m just going to talk about some of the things I loved. 

First off this is a smart book. Do not let anyone tell you that fantasy or the oft associated science fiction are stupid. They’re not. Or at least not any more frequently than crime fiction and by my estimation significantly less than romantic fiction. This is particularly intelligent because it manages to mix many mythologies and theologies without ever being too heavy on the ‘Odin was a Norse god people believed x,y,x about him’ exposition. If you are interested in and know a bit about different mythologies then there are lots of lovely touches and jokes for you to enjoy, if you are not it will not matter a jot, it will still be an entertaining read.

Gaiman also manages to make many of the gods in to remarkably fully formed characters. Sure they’re gods but they have fully formed personalities, their behaviour in the context of the story always makes sense and Gaiman never resorts to having them behave a particular way to advance plot, and so he doesn’t have explain it away with ‘they’re a god so the can do that’. Each god possesses entirely their own personalities, gifts and curses. 

In the mythology of the novel gods arise from belief. I love the idea that gods and their power arise from our belief in them because it rings so true for me. You might not believe in Jesus or Mohammad but you can’t possibly deny their power and influence in the world, which stems from people’s belief in them. What compounds the excellence of the idea is the execution. Gaiman makes it work and work well within the context of this story. 

The story centres round Shadow a recently released ex-con whose wife was killed in a car accident. Who finds himself drawn in to a war between the ancient gods and the god’s of modernity. For some of the book he seems to float around the landscape following instructions and rolling with the increasingly odd punches. He has the disconnect that his common to people who have recently suffered trauma or bereavement. It is testament to Gaiman’s skill as a writer that this works without him ever hammering you over the head with this is a person traumatised and without it ever feeling like he’s merely a cypher and not a fully formed character. His grief and distress becomes apparent through how he behaves and interacts with the world. It’s also there in how he begins to reconnect with the world. It is one of the better illustrations of a  bereaved individual never resorting to histrionics or showy emotion, in any work of fiction I have read.  

I suppose the bottom line for me and why I loved this so, was the ideas. Ideas about divinity, humanity and how to be in the world. It’s a fantastical novel set in our world and ‘backstage’ in the world of the gods but it manages to ring true. It’s the truth of it that gets me. It tends to be what gets me about any work of fiction or art. It doesn’t have to be real but it has to be true and this is true. Read it.

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