Monday, 20 August 2012

Neil Gaiman | American Gods

A full year after getting my paperback copy of the tenth anniversary edition of American Gods signed by the author, at a reading in Edinburgh... he dedicated it to my then 13-year-old son, who promptly put the book down after chapter two ("not ready for that," he said)... I can now say I have finished it.

[August's book group pick,  you see. Yes, this confirms it, I am a middle aged woman who likes Chardonnay.]

In case you don't know, after writing some weird and wonderful Victoriana fairy tales, Gaiman decided to pen a monster of a contemporary novel imagining what it would be like if all the Gods people ever believed in were alive and not doing so well in modern USA. So Odin, Thor's dad, ruler of Asgard, becomes Wednesday, a con man and serial seducer of waitresses.

It's an overtly meandering hunk of a book. I loved the first part when Shadow comes out of prison, it is full of grit and mystery and the writing is taut and well paced. But, and I am sure I am not the only person to observe this, the book drifts by the time you get half way.

Some of the writing -- this is the author's cut version, but whether that has an impact I can't tell -- but it sort of lets him down a bit. Just the odd moment when it is not as precise as Gaiman is in, say, shorter works like Coraline or in his short stories. Which are wonderful.

And the scenes -- Laketown -- are beautifully done. It's just. You wonder why. Where is this going? And he takes too long to tell you where he is going. And why. And when the pay offs come.... well. I was actually a bit underwhelmed. And considering the finale, that is quite an admission.

This may be a novel to immerse yourself in and not hurry. Perhaps I was hurrying, wanting to finish it by the weekend because, well, I have other stuff to read, to do. But it struck me as overly indulgent and that surprised me.

As to the idea of American Gods, I am still puzzled. There's a lot in there. Pagan. Post religion. A man dying on a tree so others can survive. So many messages, symbols, references. But I feel I need help in understanding what it was about. (Forget Gods, humans are what humans are, better just to die. well... yeah... duh) The learnedness of it is striking -- but at times, again, sometimes it isn't.

Somehow the book hasn't left me feeling uplifted or with a sense that I've learned something. Two things I think I probably expected to feel from this much lauded work. Instead, I thought: this would make a decent tv show. If they could tighten up the plot.


  1. I thought the same about the book.

    A big-budget TV version is in-the-works at HBO.

    I enjoyed Tom Robbins' "Skinny Legs and All" more, though I did read it a long, long time ago...

  2. Hi Roger... I'd forgotten about the HBO project. They'll do it well.

    Not read the other book -- will add it to my long list...