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This review is about the tenth anniversary edition which contains an extra 12000 words more than the original. I'll do my best with this review, but to be honest I found it a difficult book to digest so I've had to think long and hard about describing it in review form. I've got quite a few opinions about it, but there's a part of me that feels I should see the brilliance of the book (as many do), and there's a part of me that feels like I've just seen a magic trick whilst being able to hear unproduced doves cooing in the magician's pocket - a bit bemused and still waiting for the good bit to happen.
What I'm sure about is that I have read a very soundly constructed and well told story, but I don't share the view of many others who have read this book that this is a statement about a godless society. When I've tried to analyse American Gods in that way, I can't help think that a fiction book about a non-fiction subject would be a very convoluted way of putting a point across, so why would Neil Gaiman bother?
I've read other Gaiman books and have to say he is a master story crafter - either I haven't read widely enough or he really is one of the very best at what he does. Purely as a story, I thoroughly enjoyed American Gods, but as I mentioned above I struggled to see those hidden depths in the tale that so many who've also read it rave about. Maybe it's just me though. I'll try to describe the story below and hopefully you'll be able to make your own mind up whether or not it's worth a try.
A man called Shadow is days away from being released from prison when the Governor tells him that his wife has died in a car accident. When he gets home, he learns rather cruelly that she had died performing a sexual act on the driver of the car, who was Shadow's friend and who had promised him a job once out of prison.
Whilst on his journey home, Shadow was sat next to a man on a plane who offers him a job, a mysterious man called Mr Wednesday. Shadow refuses and goes on his way with a rental car once landed. Having a last minute trip to the bathroom before driving home, Mr Wednesday appears next to him and doesn't take no for an answer.
Shadow and his very soon to be new boss drive towards Shadow's home, stopping off in a bar late that night. Over three glasses of mead, Shadow finally agrees to work for him and as the story develops more is revealed about Mr Wednesday. It turns out that Mr Wednesday is some sort of old God who needs Shadow's assistance to assemble other old Gods living in America for a forthcoming war against new Gods, a power shift in which at first Shadow is a reluctant participant then ultimately a major figure in the war.
The Old Gods were brought to America in the form of the beliefs of those who (for the purposes of the story) came to America in times long gone - Vikings, Chinese traders, various Europeans etc. (As an aside, there is a theory that it was Vikings who were the first from the West to "discover" America and not Christopher Columbus , but that is a debate for another time and place). Recent times are getting harder for the old Gods as people are forgetting about them. Gods who no longer have followers die; they need belief as a form of sustenance. On the rise are the new Gods representing cars, fame, drugs etc and their sustenance is the sacrifices people make in those ways - road traffic accident victims etc.
It transpires in the final showdown battle at a place called "the house on the rock" that both Shadow and Mr Wednesday had bigger roles to play than the author had revealed up to that point, and this makes for a good climax to the battle. I won't reveal what actually happens here as I daren't face the wrath of the plot spoiler police.
If you want something which is vastly different to an average thriller / mystery with a large dose of terror and fantasy thrown in then this would fit the bill perfectly. Every Gaiman book I've read has stood out as being different in a very big way to most of the other authors who write books in similar genres whose work I also read. Hopefully, like I was, you'll be left thinking that you've just read something that you know you'll never come across anything as good as or even vaguely resembling it again.
I'm aware that for existing Gaiman fans I will definitely be preaching to the converted, but if you've never read any of his work before but might be tempted to after hearing about him or possibly watching the film Stardust (based on a book by the same man), then I recommend you give one of his books a try - I'm almost sure you'll enjoy it. However, I'd suggest as a starting point trying his book called Smoke and Mirrors as opposed to American Gods as American Gods is a huge piece of work and it might be better to go for a starter rather than a main as an introduction to his style of writing.
A well written story will always be popular, and that's exactly what this is. American Gods, whilst big at the 579 pages that this "author's preferred version" of mine contains (plus the American Gods related novella at the end) was certainly worth my time as firstly, I enjoyed it immensely and secondly whilst I don't fully understand the underlying message it has certainly got my brain working, which can only be a good thing. I've got a strong feeling that eventually after mulling it over, I will finally "get" what the story was intended to mean by Gaiman.
Taken at face value though, it was thoroughly enjoyable to read and I don't think it matters too much about understanding what he's trying to say about a godless society. At first, take it for what it is and you should enjoy it. I'm sure it will be a long time until I read a story of this quality again and can't give it anything less than five stars. Thanks for reading.
RRP £8.99 (paperback)
Available on Amazon for £6.29 brand new paperback or £3.95 kindle edition.
In the back of one edition of his book 'American Gods' Neil Gaiman asks himself a key question: 'How dare you?' He states that one surprise is that no one has ever asked him that question, considering his award winning novel actually rips apart the very crux of every religion that is followed within the boundaries of the US. A Brit himself, he wonders why no one has challenged his take on things, pitting traditional religions against the modern day materialism we have begun to 'worship'. Perhaps the answer is one that is very simple: we can't disagree...it's science vs religion, all the way.
Every time I tried to find out a little bit about this book without spoiling it for me, I'd come across a testimonial, comment or critique that opened with some deep and meaningful phrase or suggestion, and my every instinct instructed me not to read up on it too much, for fear of spoiling it. I believe I was right. I almost urge you right now to stop reading this review and go and read the book yourself, without anyone else's judgment and opinion clouding your thoughts, including mine.
The plot is a shallow transparent covering of the real detail, a rare book where the plot is a by product of what it wants to do and say, a road trip come thriller that focuses on getting you to think about who and what we are reading about, and why, without actually detracting from the events happening and trying to engage with the characters. We meet Shadow, a criminal just released from jail having done time to protect others. He finds his dead wife was having an affair with his best friend while he was inside, and decides that he has nothing left to really live for. He is now a loner, without a cause. Then he meets Wednesday, a mysterious man looking to recruit him, to protect him if he is in danger and to run errands, but nothing that would land him in trouble again. He accepts and the rest, as they say, is history.
What then follows is an intrinsic 600 pages or so, where we follow Shadow as he does Wednesday's bidding, meeting up with various quirky characters as the employer tries to persuade them to join his 'side' in something big that is coming up. I have to be honest and say that I usually strike a clear boundary between fiction and no fiction, between letting the words flow and doing research, but here, I was compelled to stop every now and then and do some research. For this is no easy read, and no simple tale. Gaiman has managed to personify each and every religious entity he can muster up, justifying their inclusion by indicating where in the US they are relevant, how they are worshipped, and why this is an issue. He details positive and negative characteristics, initiates conversations and events, provides action and ultimately makes it oh so very hard to put the book down.
On the other side are man made 'religions', such as Media and Town, pitched really as the bad guys in all of this, showing essentially how the world of technology has become almost like a religion, with kids transfixed in front of their TVs, iPods, iPads, Galaxies, nexus devices, phones, laptops, Wiis and you name it, while the traditional worshippers find their Gods fading and being pitched as the weaker 'team'.
It verges on blasphemy, but the way I look at it, it's simply a fantastic analogy, and I mean fantastic in both senses of the word here. Extremely cleverly written, a veritable melange of multiple religions that have no right to co-exist, an easy to comprehend existence behind the scenes, a way of looking at things from an encompassing point of view, and a way to explain one word: belief. Gaiman focuses on the fact that any religion exists as long as someone believes in it. We have no tangible way of proving any of it, save for what people have written in the past, and even then there is nothing visible and 'provable' in the slightest. He pitches this in a fast paced novel with fictional characters, and even has time to throw in some resurrection, rites of passage, tongue in cheek, and masks the one thing that you wish you actually knew by the end of the book: what does he believe in?
It's a 600 page rant, it's a rehashed manuscript for the world's religion, it's an experiment into a collaborative world where everything co-exists and multiple beliefs manifest into actually beings. the characters other than Shadow and Wednesday are expertly done, and had me researching and looking up all manner of religions, finding out about certain Gods from here and there, different countries, eras, theories and so called facts. Rituals and prayer, sacrifice and personality, all of these things are now much clearer in my mind, and I feel that having read a novel, I have learnt something valuable about myself. I wouldn't call it an epiphany, but I would quietly purse my lips, nod, and give a non visual round of applause to Gaiman. At times, he goes on a bit, and to be fair the edition I read wasn't the originally published one, it was a later one with much more content than his editors had originally released. But here, it seems to be the main version he wanted to put out there, and so it's the one I read.
Everything the man touches seems to turn to gold. Books, comics, cartoons, films, all manner of media. He has me hook, line and sinker and I never seem to go looking for his work, it just falls into my lap. As you may have guessed, I can recommend this. Do yourself a favour: devour it slowly, and with an open mind.
American Gods is a multi-award winning novel by Neil Gaiman and it tells the story of a war between gods set on American soil. The book mixes fantasy and horror and weaves a multi-lateral story where nothing is as it appears and the characters are more than they first appear.
The book begins with the release from prison of Shadow a man in his Forties who just before his release is told that his wife and bet friend were killed in a car crash. He travels back to his home town but on the way meets a mysterious stranger called Mr. Wednesday on the plane who seems to know more about Shadow than he should. Shadow rejects his offer of a job but meets Mr. Wednesday again at an obscure roadside café, where over drinking mead he accepts Mr. Wednesday's job offer.
From this point on, a simple world takes a crazy turn we are introduced to a land where all the worlds' gods are transplanted at some point but loss of belief is killing these displaced Gods. Now Mr. Wednesday is travelling around America trying to gain support in his efforts against the 'new' Gods. The new Gods are those of the computer, phone and car and the obsession of Americans with their gadgets have made time for the traditional old European, African and South American Gods reduced and some have died due to lack of belief.
This book is firmly set in America's mid-west, a land in love with religion and the love of righteousness and love of America. Shadow's world is repeated upset, he finds out truths about his wife and friend, about the nature of the cycles of belief in America and how every transplanted person brings his old Gods with him. Parts of the novel disturb such as the appearance of Laura his dead wife, she slowly rots as the story progresses and each time she appears her physical state deteriorates. Shadow's love for his wife is slowly eroded by the errors she made over the 3 years he was in prison and she follows Shadow around saving him occasionally. Shadow is sent to a small town in the States where everything seems normal but you know as the reader that things are happening off the radar which slowly disturb the reader.
This is a book which grabs the reader from page one, the whole book is first person perspective of either Shadow or Laura but mostly Shadow, his personality is one of taciturn solidity and he exudes solid dependency. His world slowly unravels and from a bodyguard of Mr Wednesday to a central pivot in the war between Gods he has the final say in how the war ends.
I loved this book for the first 600 pages but found the ending a little abrupt and wish the author had given the book a slightly different ending. The scenes with Shadow on a tree are some of the most compelling I've ever read and his final scenes with Mr. Wednesday are superb. This book is more supernatural horror than fantasy, there's plenty of subtle psychological horror and you know the book will have a few twists at the end. For me the best parts of the books are the little vignettes about the arrival of the Gods onto American soil, my favourite the arrival of an Irish God because one of the early settlers kept putting a bowl of milk out for his pleasure every night. The Irish settler however never told anyone else why she did it and the God led a pitiful life for the next few decades before amalgamating with the God of the Leprechauns during the 19th century.
I've had a decent run of books this year, and this joins my list of favourite books of the year. I'd place it second ahead of JFK assassination book by Steven King and behind Carrion comfort by Dan Simmons.
Neil Gaiman's extraordinary road trip into the mythology and soul of America is a very sad, often profound experience. Shadow is a very believable character, and is pulled into meetings with gods and mythical creatures while all the time regaining his humanity. I have heard a lot of people say they prefer Neverwhere as a book, but I think American Gods is more profound and provocative, and certainly a far darker book than Neverwhere was. A large book, yes, but absolutely worth every moment spent reading it.
Shadow has just been released from prison, on bail, two days before he was due, because his wife's just died in a car accident with his best friend - the two people who were going to get his life back together.
On returning from the funeral, and lost, not knowing what to do, Shadow encounters the mysterious Mr Wednesday, an old confidence man claiming to be the king of the Gods, who wants Shadow to be his bodyguard. Eventually Shadow accepts, and they travel America, meeting with Wednesday's old acquaintances, all of them weirder than the last. Wednesday tells Shadow that all of them are gods, and that there's a war coming. The old gods versus the new gods.
As their travels take them further into the heart of America - a continent that by default has no gods, only those brought in from migrants - the two find themselves much deeper than they thought, and the battle is only just beginning.
Neil Gaiman's book about the human condition, and what beliefs we model based on our surroundings, flows prefectly and throughout its very weird and bizarre plot, and its flashbacks to other events and characters it weaves this very fine story which leads to a rather good ending. All the way throughout, Neil leaves you wondering about the previous events - not everything is what you read. It's beautifully written and although sometimes drags on a bit, but you'll be too engrossed on the story to really care.
It mixes in fantasy, with a bit of horror and comedy with some pretty intense scenes and drama. In fact, it's a bit of a complex one when it comes to putting a genre on.
American Gods is a book by Neil Gaiman, writer of Stardust (recently made into a great film by Jonathan Ross's wife), Neverwhere and Smoke and Mirrors. The story begins with the introduction of the main character Shadow who has almost finished a three-year jail sentence when we join him. He has been looking forward to be reunited with his wife until he finds out that she has died in a car accident and he is released a few days early. On returning home he meets a mysterious man named Mr Wednesday. He is a conman and needs someone to work for him as bodyguard and driver. Not knowing what else to do, Shadow takes the job. And so the adventure that takes place all over the USA begins.
Shadow does not know the reasons for this adventure until much later in the book but he becomes aware that the world is full of Gods of the past, no longer worshipped that live among us as humans. This book involves heavy themes such as theology, betrayal and war. It's narrative is not straight forward and the book often jumps from one plot to completely different one, ad although these subplots are interesting and often compelling, they distract the reader from the main story and lengthen the time it takes to get to the peak of the action. I liked the premise of this book, but I felt that after all the build up, the deliverance of the climax did not live up to what I as the reader felt was promised.
This was an out of this world sort of book, not something I inspire to read, but now and again, something like this pops up in my hands and I'm usually like 'nooooooooo', however this was pretty different, especially since it was written by word-class (well maybe I should just say a brilliant) author!
Neil Gaiman has written quite a few books. This one has been known as something different from his other works, some people say that they didn't like this book; others would say it was good... Hence the mix of different ratings for this particular book! I have read this book along with 3 other books of his (such as, "The Graveyard Book", "Smoke and Mirrors" and "Neverwhere", please look at the reviews). But this one is different from his others, well as far as I can tell.
There is one big confusing plot to this book, and so it'll be pretty hard to explain, but here goes nothing:
We follow a character called Shadow, who has been in prison for quite sometime... He's wife has recently past away, and so he was let out of jail a bit early due to the death... (He was going to come out soon)
While he is on the plane, the person next to him says he has got a job for Shadow to do. Shadow refuses and when he tries to run away from this guy, this guy still appears out of nothing!
He later agrees and is pushed in a steep hill of mixed events not quite knowing where he is, what he is supposed to do, and why on earth he was the one chosen! Anyway, finally he is told to hide away in a place where no one will go... (I loved this place as it felt separate from the world, everyone knew everyone's business, and it felt relaxing and perfect, it proved how good of a writer Neil Gaiman really is!) This complete other world was enlightened and gave a bit of mystery as well, as kids have been disappearing every single year... But I kept on wondering why? And how?
The story goes on, with about 5 different endings for each different place and world. It is really good, and is totally out of this world! Even his wife comes back alive as a ghost to help Shadow in his role... But what is this role, and why him?
So many questions pop up in this book, that could leave people in a puddle drowning, that is probably one of the worst things about this book, however, you can get out of the puddle easily, you could either put the book back down, or keep reading, I went for the keep reading idea as I wanted answers and I'd feel agitated that I'd never had found out if I had put it down, I advise everyone who starts this book, not to put it down and leave it alone and start a new book all together, no, no, no, such a bad idea!
I felt surprised that I enjoyed this book as this is really not my sort of story line... If I had read a review about this book before I read it, I might not have bothered with it, which is soooooooo stupid of me, but it is what I would have done as this certainly isn't my sort of book at all, it's not something I like to read, I don't know why, maybe it seems a bit gimmicky or something like that, I think I don't like them because the authors just throw anything into it, which makes it seem horrible and different, and not at all good... But this one is totally different and so I was glad I read it!
I would say the questions that endlessly pop up can be annoying, but then again it's your imagination that does that. I don't think there's many other bad points about this book as far as I can think of, I don't usually read the book in mind of bad and good points but some things do pop up now and again!
There is a hell of a lot of good points such as the fact that it draws your attention straight away with this guy on the plane who automatically knows Shadow's name and everything about him and the fact that he has got a job proposition for shadow! This makes us question who he is and how he knows Shadow etc. It dies down a bit afterwards as it's not long until those questions are answered, but they build up again.
The clever thing that is placed within this book, is that there must be about 30-40 people that are introduced to us, either physically as in they appear in the book and talk and what not, and also through word-of-mouth as some of them are talked about but don't appear until the most obvious place in the book! By the time when they all appear, and Shadow talks to some of them, we know who is who, sometimes we may have to think back, and if they were introduced later on we might flip back a few pages, but Neil Gaiman has made us put a face to every name and so when one pops up in the book, you know straight away who it is without guessing or not even that, it's amazing how much he has made us remember by that part of the book turns up!
Now I've heard that the book called "Anansi Boys" has a similar sort of story-line, it's not a sequel to this book, and maybe not even closely linked, it features the same characters (apparently) and the same out-of-this world concepts, I'll be very interested in reading it if I have half the chance! Also there is an actual sequel that Neil Gaiman wrote, but it is only a short story called "The Monarch of the Glen" which can be found in his book of short stories called: "Fragile Things" that I'm really interested in reading... I presume this sequel (I have not read it yet so this is all a presumption which may be totally wrong) that this sequel was meant to be included in American Gods but for some reason it wasn't, again this is a presumption so don't count on me being correct!
I want to thank everyone on here as you all influenced me, one way or another, whether it was sending me a message, a comment or simply writing a review, to read a book from Neil Gaiman, and I'd like to thank you all, even if you don't think you helped! Thank you all for reading and I sure hope you will interest me in a load more authors as time goes by!
I have only read the authors prefered edition of American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which contains a good deal more words than the orginal, making it very much longer, but in my opinion, not any less worth reading. It is a long book, it took me a little less than a week to get to and I do read quite fast, but it's deffinatly worth reading.
Having such a long and complicated story I don't think it would be easy to summarise it in a review and do it justice, but I will do my best. America Gods is the story of Shadow, a man who has just arrived at his time to be released from prison when his wife dies, letting him be released slightly earlier than planned. He travels back home as quickly as possibly for his wife Lauras funeral. Here he discovers that Laura died whilst driving home with his best friend Robbie, who also dies. They had just completed an affair they had promised to end on Shadows return home. As Shadow had planed to work for Robbie on his return he is now left with nothing to go back to outside prison.
This is where Shadows life changes quite drastically. He is offered work repeatedly by a man calling himself Mr Wednesday. Although he wants to refuse he now realises he actually has absolutely nothing else to do, and accepts. It's not long before Shadow discovers that Wednesday is an incarnation of Odin, the Norse God. He must travel across America with him gathering the support of other Gods (including Thoth, Bast, Anubis, Easter and Loki) for a task that Shadow has no knowledge about.
Amerian Gods is set in a country which no longer has faith in religion, or the Gods of their homelands. The people ancestors brought the Gods over when they moved to American, and the next generations soon forgot about them, too late for the Gods who are already stuck there. The Gods live of faith and worship, so save for a few (such as Easter) none receive such things. They are living in an age where people will not sacrifice their animals or hearts to Gods, but instead sacrifice their time and money to the internet, TV, and modern technology in general. How can the Gods fight back? At least Mr Wednesday has a plan.
I do like this idea that Gaiman has created, that Gods do exist, whether we believe in them or not. It does remind me very much though of the Gods in disk world, how the Gods power is dependant on how many people believe in them. American Gods also looks at the cultures and traditions of many different Gods as they came over to the country in the hearts and minds of their followers and how they cope now with their very different lives. Not being a religious person at all, I did love reading about how different people see their Gods, or how the Gods see their people.
Although the book is completely centred around the Gods in America it does follow Shadow throughout, who is at times by himself when he is left alone at times by Mr Wednesday. This is a huge book, and a huge story, so I think that these times make you take a step back from what's going on. This book isn't slow, there is always something going on, but it does take a long time for the story to come to a conclusion as it keeps going off to other little sub stories. I actually really like these, but I could see how it may annoy some people. I could easily see people thinking 'come on, this has nothing to do with the plot, get going!!!'. But I think the length of the book just adds to the strength of the characters, and helps Gaiman include more themes, that may be quite weak if the book was much shorter. Then you would find a book with just a story and not much depth.
This book has won an amazing amount of awards, for fantasy, horror, all sorts. It is a page turner at times, and has its slow moments, but I've read it twice now, and liked it much better the second time. I'm sure at some point I'll read it a third. I would suggest this to anyone who likes reading fantasy, and who could stick with reading this. It's well worth it!
Shadow is having one of those good news/bad news sort of days. He's being released from prison early, which is good. This is, though, only because his wife has just been killed in a car accident, which is bad. Shadow's best friend had offered him a good, steady job for when he got out of prison, which was good. He was also killed in the car crash, which is bad. What's more, the pair were engaged in an act of mutual pleasure at the time, causing the car to veer off the road. Again, quite bad. All in all, then, Shadow emerges from his incarceration a lost, near-broken man, which is perhaps why he accepts the first offer that comes his way without asking too many questions.
To segue away from the plot for a second, it's worth explaining the premise which Neil Gaiman (author of Stardust, Sandman and Coraline) plays with in American Gods. Deities, he feels, have such an essential relationship with those who believe in them that when the believers move, so too do the Gods. As such, the cultural melting-pot that is the United States is inhabited by all manner of divine beings, benevolent and malevolent.
However, a God is only as powerful as the level of belief in them. When migrants move to America, have children and begin to forget about those their families worshipped, so those Gods slowly fade away, ending up as decaying ghosts of their former glory, living in impoverished squalor.
Mr Wednesday is one of these Gods (and, if you know your mythology, you'll know from his name which one) - not as diminished as some, nor as strong as the new "Gods" of America, those of mass media and fast money. He approaches Shadow and offers him employment as his errand-runner; our protagonist's main duty ostensibly being to track down the fallen Gods of America and convince them to join Wednesday's upcoming war on the new Gods.
This, though, is only the central thread of a great, sprawling book which takes in a multitude of stories and legends. The narrative often veers wildly away from this linear path as Shadow treads an increasingly indistinct line between the world we know and the only semi-familiar landscape inhabited by the Gods. It is to Gaiman's great credit (and something that speaks volumes of his abilities as an author) that he is able to, for the most part, control these myriad aspects of his tale and bring them together into a comprehensible, entertaining story.
American Gods is, as one would expect from the premise, bursting at its seams with rich, eccentric characters. However, Shadow is not one of these - and this was a good decision on the author's part. In a narrative heady with idiosyncratic, often tantalisingly ambiguous individuals, the central character presents a calm, restrained voice that seems to offer a context for the Gods to play in. Shadow is, from the outset, unusually accepting and almost passive, yet this works - an anchor that holds the more outlandish, ambitious elements of the novel steady, and keeps it from descending into melodrama.
The ambition and scope of this book is both its strength and its downfall. On the positive side, it's clear that Gaiman has done his research - Gods from all manner of cultures are here, and rendered with the flourish and skill we have come to expect from the author. The Russian Gods, Czernobog and Bialobog are particularly memorable characters - you can almost smell the damp, rotting decay that pervades around them as Gaiman narrates the segments in which Shadow attempts to recruit them for Wednesday's army. He is also able to write the Gods in such a way that they appear quite human, yet at the same time have something elusively other-worldly in their mannerisms. Such skilled creation of atmosphere, character and setting is a constant in American Gods, and you can't help but feeling the author had a lot of fun turning such a rich pool of resources into a novel.
On the debit side, however, it seems as if there was simply too much here for even an author as able as Gaiman to bring together neatly. That this is a long book isn't the problem - it's more that, especially in the second half of the novel, there's too much crammed in, resulting in an endgame that ratchets up the levels of convolution and confusion to a point where it's too great a challenge to take it all in. It's not that there's anything wrong with any of the sub-plots and added vignettes that start to multiply after half-way - they're fine, interesting stories, as well-written as any other part of the novel. However, some of them could almost be novels in their own rights, and the overall effect is a muddying one.
The premise is a big, challenging one in itself, so it's a shame that just when the story should be getting clearer, it becomes more complicated. There's a lot to admire about one particularly surreal multi-chapter scene near the end as a piece of writing, but I just found it dizzyingly perplexing. By the time an impenetrable fog descends over the battleground at the climax, I felt like the same had happened to my brain, such was its inability to make sense of it all.
Ending on a negative note would probably give a false impression of this book. I did enjoy it, and one has to admire the feat that Gaiman accomplishes in covering the ground that he does. However, it's hard to come away from the novel not thinking that you should be feeling more strongly about it. An excellent first half makes for first-rate reading, and is full of vivid characters and delicious, versatile writing, but by the end, one finds the potency has dissipated, fading away like a neglected God.
Written by Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere, Sandman, Stardust) and first published in 2001, American Gods tells the story of Shadow, a quiet, taciturn man who, on his release from prison, finds the world - or at least his perception of it - irrevocably altered. Shadow's stay in prison is shortened by a few days when he learns that his wife has been killed in a car accident, one that has also claimed the life of his best friend.
Numbed by the news - throughout the book, no matter what the revelation, Shadow is not a man prone to hysteria - his return flight home is interrupted by the mysterious Mr Wednesday (those with some knowledge of the etymology of our weekdays will soon click), a career conman in need of an escort and bodyguard. Suddenly without wife or prospects (his deceased friend had work lined up for him), Shadow cedes to Wednesday's persistence, and the two begin a trans-American journey, the purpose of which isn't fully disclosed to Shadow until the book's closing stages.
What does become clear to Shadow is that his world is populated by discarded Gods, members of dispelled, ancient pantheons down on their luck and facing extinction from a new theology: one centred around wealth, economics and material goods. War is coming, and it has fallen upon Wednesday to rally the troops, whip the Old Gods in battle fervour, and destroy their increasingly dominant rivals.
The juxtaposition between Gaiman's outlandish plot and the earthy, matter-of-fact way in which he sets his scenes works well. There is irony in that the reader doesn't necessarily baulk at the idea of Gods roaming across America in cheap suits, but instead is more surprised at Shadow's ability not to be overwhelmed by such revelations. When long-dead television stars begin to communicate with him through his television, or when his deceased wife appears to him in increasingly putrefying form, or when Shadow plays a game of chequers for his life - no matter what the esoteric circumstance, Shadow remains relatively unperturbed.
The only exception to this is when Shadow learns his wife and friend were having an affair; that they died, in fact, halfway through an act of copulation. For all the miraculous events and disclosures that surround him, Shadow is most affected by his wife's betrayal, and this is utterly endearing - this victory of human emotion, of things that we can really feel, over the exaggerated and transient notion of belief in gods.
Perhaps this deadpan approach by Shadow is Gaiman's attempt to allow the reader to focus on other things: the characters of the Gods themselves, rather than on the fact they actually do exist; the geographical vistas of middle America; the thematic issue of theology and its inherent relationship to the human condition. A plot-twist later on in the story also explains Shadow's outlook.
The premise of this book is its strength: Gods mingling with humans, plotting like humans, rutting, drinking and fighting like humans. The actions of Wednesday and his supernatural colleagues, and the central notion behind American Gods, is that theology is a man-made object, something that we manifest, and that these manifestations rely on us as believers as much as, if not more than, them as deities. It's not a new idea, of course: the ancient Greek and Norse pantheons abound with human ideals and passtimes: war, adultery, betrayal. They were theological soap operas, and this book, in how its not-so-heavenly characters behave and the underlying reason for Wednesday's actions, is a strong reflection of that.
Furthermore, Gaiman's gods are erstaz, desperate beings, and all the more colourful for it. They are affected by alcoholism, apathy and depression, beaten down by a world that created them and then subsequently found it had no need for them. Again, Gaiman is emphasising the human condition of theology. Gods, he says, do exist, but only in the mind and mould of Man.
In its attempt to be everything - a character study, a meandering slice of Americana, and a twisting, plot-driven narrative - American Gods is an ambitious work, and, to my mind, overly so. Its only fault is, sadly, a serious one: it tries too hard, becoming a Jack of all trades and master of none. Thus the prose isn't breathtaking, the plot shimmers in and out of importance and the themes - as strong as they potentially are - become diluted.
I can't escape from the idea that American Gods needed a more stringent editor. At 630 pages the book is perhaps 200 too long, delving too deeply into a curious subplot whereby Shadow finds himself temporarily holed up in a sleepy town called Lakeside. This section does have relevance - we learn that Lakeside is an anachronism, a town of innocent charm maintained by horrifying sacrifice - but Gaiman labours the point too hard, its payoff disproportionate to the effort involved.
The fascinating premise and the themes raised by Gaiman do carry it through, but only just, and after racing out of the blocks it crosses the finish line tired and out of puff.
What happens to gods when no one believes in them any more? Do they just go away? Do they take up fortune teling, whoring or whatever was closest to their original calling? How do you know if you meet one? Hold those thoughts. Shadow seems like a fairly ordianry small time crook who has done his time and means to go straight, however, when his wife and best freind die in a car crash days before he was due to come out, he finds himself cast adrift in the world. He's offered work by a mysterious and slightly sinister man called Mr Wednesday and is soon travelling the country on a very peculiar and often life threatening set of jobs. Gaiman is a British author, so his forray into the heart of America is ambitious to say the least. Sometimes the book feels a bit like a road movie, but its a road movie with a strong and compelling collection of plots, twists and some glorious jokes. The main plot is laced through with smaller tales, and while they might at first seem to be irrelevant asides, they give you a lot of clues about what is going on in the main story. (And it is much like the technique Gaiman uses in his graphic novels.) Not knowing much about America doesn't seem to be much of a handicap, I might add. However, if you don't know your ancient gods, this must be a hard read, if not very bemusing. Gaiman knows his mythology, and he draws on it. The plot doesn't make as much sense, I suspect, if these figures are not at least a bit familiar to you. (I'm guessing, because I knew almost everyone, even if I did miss one really obvious figure - the joke was on me and it was very funny.) Gaiman doesn't make it hard to work out whose who - the names he gives are huge giveaways most of the time. So, If you know just from the name who Mr Wednesday, Mr Nancy, Misters Ibis and Jaquel (funeral directors)and Easter are likely to be, then I can say with all confidence that you will love this book and really enjoy the g
ames Gaiman plays during it. (Where names don't give them away, physical descriptions do, I might add.)If you haven't a clue about any of the above, approach with caution and expect to be at least a bit confused most of the time. I would add that if you've read Pratchett's "Small gods" then you might find there's a familiar theory or two knocking about, but in very different ways. This book may give you headaches, or it might make you think a good deal about what it is that you believe in, and what it might mean to actualy be a god. Its a glorious text, an amazing plot full of fascinating details and sub plots, strange characters and people who don't seem able to decide if they are actually dead or not. I'll finish with my favourite quote.... "Hey" said Shadow, "Huginn, or Muginn, or whoever you are." The bird turned, head tipped, suspiciously, on one side,and it stared at him, with bright eyes. "Say Nevermore." said Shadow. "F*CK you." said the Raven.
Gods? How are they created? The traditional Church indoctrinated amongst you will tell me, there is one God and he (but it could be she) created everything on this planet. I would reply, well fine, but what about these ancient Greek Gods, or the Egyptian ones, even those of the African tribes, what did they do? You would scratch your head and probably wonder that yourself. Or am I being hard? Neil Gaiman, in his book American Gods has thought about the number of Gods that have been created by societies throughout history and across the globe - then added the twist that pretty much everybody, from anywhere at any time has visited the United States, oh yes we are talking pre-Columbus here, pre-pre Columbus and on their visit, their belief in their Gods bought the Gods' manifestation with them. Now there is a school of thought that has existed amongst broad-minded philosophers that if a human being creates something in their mind, then in some respects (these respects differ depending on who you read) that something is created in some form, in some dimension, or even for real. My answer to this is who knows, but Gaiman has said right, obviously all these Gods exist on some level and whatever that level is they are all mooching around the United States at present - some who have few living believers are down on their luck and others "new" Gods, technological Gods, media Gods are fresh with believers and therefore powerful. Gaiman himself is a writer that has written across the artistic spectrum, children's fiction, graphic novels (grown up comic books), short stories and novels. He is a writer that sits in that populist slot, much like Stephen King or Terry Pratchett, his books are fantasy based, but with a foot in reality as we perceive it. This was my first foray into Gaiman's work, a popular and well respected author and it will probably be my last - well what is a certainty these days? Woven into this elabora
te God theory (which if you think about it, must hold some merit) is the tale of Shadow. It is Shadow who the God Odin, or Mr Wednesday comes to for help, to employ him as a bodyguard and errand boy. But it is obvious if you pay attention to the narrative that there is more to Shadow than meets to eye. Shadow has just been released from prison to discover that his wife has been found dead, just the day before, with Shadow's best friend's member in her mouth. Welcome back to life Shadow. Down in the mouth, Shadow takes up with the enigma that is Mr Wednesday and discovers that all is not well in God America. The old Gods are under threat from the new. The new want to exterminate the old and have the world of worship to themselves. Gaiman beautifully points out that in modern society we worship an awful lot, television, motorcars, shopping and most of all money. I didn't really buy this, the true and only God of our age, that I can perceive is money and a nasty God it is too. "There are new Gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: Gods of credit-card and freeway, of internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, Gods of plastic and bleeper and neon. Proud Gods, fat and foolish creatures, puffed up with their own newness and importance." The narrative is built up well, with Gaiman showing off his own knowledge of ancient cultures and traditions and rather forcefully making his point that it is quite possible, that nothing is as we as individuals in the western world perceive it. But, for a book in the thriller/fantasy genre, there was too much padding for my liking. American Gods is some 630 pages long, epic proportions, but it did not need to be 630 pages long. Some chapters served no purpose except for boosting the writers ego, stories of long lost Gods, how they came to America abound, but I had grasped the point the first time - after this it becomes padding - admittedly som
etimes interesting padding, but this is a fictional book, not a piece of non-fiction work on ancient mythology. The narrative wanders to dream sequences, meant to add mystery to the plot, but because Gaiman is aiming at the populist market, they didn't add mystery to me, they just signposted where we were going to end up in 100 pages time, especially signposting the big twist in the plot line, which was obvious from about one quarter of the way in. Some of these dream sequences were interesting metaphors and allegories, but not subtle enough for their context in the plot line. Having slated the book thus far, I do have to say that Gaiman poses interesting questions to our narrow-minded western culture. What would happen to Jesus if he were to hitch hike in Afghanistan? He would be ignored of course, where as in Ireland people would bow down before him. What is heaven? What is hell? Just what type of reality do these Gods populate? Are their other dimensions to our own? Is history as we are taught it, just a pack of lies? I could go on, ultimately he answers many of his own questions, including how Gods are formed - I happen to agree with the majority of Gaiman's philosophical views, but that does not make this a good fictional book. Most of all Gaiman builds the reader up to expect a great conflagration, a great storm and when it comes, it is not even a drizzle. It could be viewed as another example of how people create a flase reality, but to me it was just a damp squib. The writing is standard fare, it is not bad, but nothing spectacular, it is not reduced down brilliance or an example of the beautiful use of language to bring images alive from the page. This is not to say that American Gods is badly written, the writing for the most part flows, but this is true for most of modern day fiction - but nothing about the writing style is any more than average. This is a book that promised much and in places was almost pro
found. "None of this can actually be happening. If it makes you more comfortable, you could think of it as a metaphor. Religions are by definition, metaphors after all." However, the promise never turned into much, I found it hard to form any real identification with characters, any real long term interest in the narrative and ultimately this is a deep book that turns incredibly shallow. To me American Gods and the ideas within held such huge potential that when the potential was ignored and passed over it was all the more galling. In the end average fiction and only just average fiction. If you are a fan of Stephen King, you will probably like this, but beware, it drags on and becomes tedious. Published by Headline. Priced £6.99. ISBN 0-7474-6374-4. 631 pages long, about 300 pages too long. Further details can be found at www.madaboutbooks.com and of course www.amazon.co.uk.
Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors, so when I heard he was about to publish an American noir novel, (one of my favourite genres) I could hardly wait to get my hands on it. Having devoured the 500-page hardback in a single sitting (it was too hot to sleep anyway!) I can report back that he has lost none of his storyteller's mastery. The flawed hero is Shadow, an ex con just released from his prison term. His wife just dead, his beast friend killed with her, exposing their affair, he is cast loose, and enters into the service of a mysterious Mr Wednesday. From there on in the story takes on the multi-layered mythic feel that is Gaiman's speciality, introducing what seems like hundreds of fully formed minor characters, and setting up a storyline that our hero interprets and reinterprets through several twists. As is appropriate to one of the great contemporary short story writers, the main drive of the novel is punctuated with interludes and short chapters painting vivid vignettes of events going on alongside the main plot, all of which feed in to the final scenes. In the acknowledgements Gaiman thanks several people who 'pointed out stray and unintentional anglicisms', and certainly to an English ear, both dialogue and text feel authentically American. I would have to quibble a bit with the classification as a Noir novel - our hero is certainly flawed white knight enough for the role, but perhaps a little to unsure of himself, and certainly not the swaggering tough guy. The women are not uniformly beautiful and evil, although Laura, Shadow's wife, at least initially fits some of the criteria of the genre's strong women. Unlike the classics of the genre which are very much rooted in their place, this book tours huge swathes of the US. As Wednesday points out, "San Francisco isn't in the same country as Lakeside any more than New Orleans is in the same country as New York'. Indeed some of the touring, and
the odd insight into the intense locales of much of the US presented in this novel puts me in mind of Bill Bryson - but maybe that’s because it's not my country. Far clearer to my mind are comparisons to another great urban fantasist - Charles De Lint, although without the hippie romanticism. The themes of American Gods: spirits of brash American modernity coexisting with the ancient gods and spirits, their histories as mixed as the peoples who have populated the USA, are very much common ground between this book and many of De Lint's. As a fan of Terry Pratchett, Gaiman's co-writer on Good Omens, and collaborator since, I fondly imagine that the same late night conversation about the nature of deity was the seed for both this novel and Parachute's Small Gods. This novel confirms Gaiman's place as a great storyteller, an incredibly accessible yet literary author. He is best known for his Sandman graphic novel series, but his novels and short story collections deserve to bring him respect and fans just as much. It's all to easy for your expectations of a favourite author to be disappointed, but so far Gaiman has never yet let me down, each eagerly anticipated story, in whatever format, has always delighted, and this is no exception. If you’re a Gaiman fan, you don't need me to tell you to get out and buy this. If you have yet to encounter his magical weavings of stories, I can only recommend that you start somewhere, and this is as good a place as any. (Unless you are in London, in which case Neverwhere is a must). The hardback has just been released (UK ISBN 0747274231) and is on offer in most of the major chains at the moment - although nominally £17.99 the publishers launched it at a bargain £10, with a rather amusing 'guarentee' - 'if you don't enjoy this more than Stephen King, get your money back'. Personaly I think the publishers are on to a very safe bet.
www.neilgaiman.com www.madaboutbooks.com (publishers website)
After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the days, then the hours, then the hours, then the seconds until his release tick away, he can feel a storm building. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in apparently adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.