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Gaiman strikes gold yet again
American Gods - Neil Gaiman
Member Name: pmcds
American Gods - Neil Gaiman
Advantages: Great insight, pushes boundaries and defies protocol
Disadvantages: May get some people's backs up
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.
Summary: Brilliant analogy of science vs technology