Neil Gaiman is an author entirely suited to the age of blogging, Twitter, Tumblr and generally all other forms of mass communication. He gets it, as does John Green, and he tries his best to correspond with his fans/followers/groupies as much as possible. I am supremely excited to be going to a book signing/talk of his next month about his latest novel, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. I have not read this book yet (am waiting for my Amazon voucher to come through so I can buy this and John Green’s Looking For Alaska) but be sure there will be a review up soon.
Gaiman has this incredible ability to write truly awful, horrific, gross things that scare me and yet I keep reading. It is akin to John Green’s skill when he wrote The Fault In Our Stars because I am truly a wuss, especially when I cannot hide behind a pillow to get through the scene. Neverwhere is a brilliant tale of subterranean London which has people eating live rats. Coraline has a mother who tries to sew BUTTONS on a little girls eyes. American Gods is vast, sprawling novel that has zombies, death by sex, death by car, death by shotgun….a lot of death.
I first read American Gods in 2007 after I had seen Stardust, got the book and read it, realised this guy was a master storyteller whose novel was almost nothing like the lighthearted fun on screen and his back catalogue must be read immediately. I have mostly been a rubbish fan on the last part of that sentence but then my interests do not lie in the comic book world, so am not sure I ever will read Sandman. However I do need to read Anansi Boys because my dumb brain has only just realised it is a spin off from one of the main characters of American Gods.
So to the book itself. It is a perplexing, hugely entertaining, somewhat frightening and definitely thought provoking work about how gods have come into existence and what becomes of them when faith is forgotten. It plays on the idea that people create their gods and religion to satisfy their own needs, but here they become manifest and then are left alone and dying when people stop worshipping.
The main focus is on Shadow, one of only a few characters every written that should be a real life human being. He probably is. There is likely to be a huge, gentle guy who is just trying to get along with life that has so far kind of sucked. Shadow has been imprisoned for three years and, days before release, his wife is killed in an accident that reveals she had been having an affair. So he takes a job offer from a persistent old man called Wednesday to be his bodyguard-come-errand boy. He then becomes part of a larger issue, a war between the gods of old and the new gods of electricity, the freeway, and media.
Intermittent with Shadow’s story are separate tales of how the gods of old came to America and how they are surviving now. It gets pretty graphic.
The storytelling is beautiful, interwoven tales from the past that serve to build up this rich history of America and its relationship with religion. How the gods who are dying out in the USA have different versions of themselves in other countries who thrive. Just the idea that the All Father has to become a grifter to survive is bizarre, even to an Atheist who would rather believe that Odin and his family are in Asgard in another realm.
Shadow is without doubt one of my favourite characters ever written. He is this beautiful, innocent soul who is getting by as best he can. You might find my assessment odd, especially calling a ex-con ‘innocent’, but its how I interpreted the character.
Shadow has this whole world of conflict he needs to deal with that was never in his imagination. Gods being real? His dead wife cheating? His dead wife coming back? The most perfect town in America actually holding an awful, dreadful secret? Its never too much for him. Well, thats not true. But he takes it, he goes with it and makes the best decision he can.
I’m two thirds the way through re-reading and I had forgotten a lot of the content in six years. I think thats probably a good gap between readings or I may be too disturbed to sleep a lot of the time, or I’ll just want to go back to school to study every myth and religion going. I do remember how I felt at the end of the novel, which I suspect is how I will feel this time too, which was oddly satisfied and happy. I felt very calm, that it had come to a conclusion I was ok with and felt was true to the story.
I’d love to know if others out there had a different experience with the book, but for me it is probably one of the greatest novels about America not written by an American.