Neil Gaiman says in the introduction to this book:
“I wanted to write a book that was big and odd and meandering, and I did.”
I couldn’t sum it up better. I read the Author’s preferred text version, which has about 12,000 words more than the original, which won an amazing array of awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, SFX and Locus Awards.
It follows the story of Shadow, who is a big, quiet man, brighter than most people think, and with a penchant for coin tricks. Released from prison when his beloved wife is killed in a car crash, he accepts an offer of employment from a very strange man, Wednesday, who turns out to be a god. The story follows their journey through America, raising support for a battle of all the old, largely forgotten gods, against the new gods of television, media and electronics.
It is hard to know what to say about this book. At first I thought it was unlike anything else I’ve ever read, but then I realised that in fact it is only like other Neil Gaiman books. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but at times felt like a slightly bewildered voyeur inside Shadow’s head, being lead willingly by the hand in and out of reality. It can be hard to tell what is real, and what is dreams, which is of course deliberate, and which all contributes to the atmosphere of the book.
“None of this can actually be happening. If it makes you more comfortable, you could simply think of it as metaphor. Religions are by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, and ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you – even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers and triumphs over all opposition.
So, none of this is happening. Such things could not occur in this day and age. Never a word of it is literally true, although it all happened, and the next thing that happened was this…”
This book is also deliciously cross-genre, an area in which I’m particularly interested. As I mentioned above, it was awarded a slew of prizes, for science fiction, horror and fantasy. It also includes elements in there as diverse as Romance and Murder Mystery, although I would question whether the science fiction label is appropriate at all. Fiction, certainly – glorious, uninhibited fiction. Science? No.
I thoroughly enjoyed the character descriptions of the gods, both old and new, and meeting them in both their incarnations as slightly down on their luck ‘human’ beings, and in their weirder and more wonderful carnations as gods. Visiting the indigenous spirit world of America was also fascinating.
My only criticism is perhaps one of my own limitations. There is a great deal of travelling across America in the book, and I get the impression of large distances travelled, but not knowing the States well, I didn’t really get a sense of the scale of travel.
If you like straightforward, to the point literature, this is not for you. If you’re willing to go with the flow and enter into the spirit of the story, then it will be a great trip!