Book Review ; American Gods, Neil Gaiman

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.

***Limited Spoilers***

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!


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10 thoughts on “Book Review ; American Gods, Neil Gaiman

  1. American Gods is my favorite Neil Gaiman! And don’t feel bad, I live in the Midwest of the US, and even I can’t quite figure out where half the places mentioned in the book are.

    • Glad to know it’s not just me! It probably doesn’t really matter in terms of the story. I think my favourite is the one he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett, ‘Good Omens’.

  2. I loved American Gods, but at times found it too meandering and unfocussed. I didn’t have the problem you had with the travel/distance concept, maybe because I’ve driven across the states, but I was actually fairly disappointed by how easily I was able to piece things together – Ususally with Neil Gaiman there’s a surprise around every corner, but Gods was fairly predictable and I think it suffered because of that. It also suffered because so many people told me it was one of the best books they’d ever read, and it clearly wasn’t. It wasn’t even the best Neil Gaiman book I’ve ever read. It wasn’t even the best Neil Gaiman book I’ve ever read where he uses some of the same characters – that would be Anansi Boys, and if you haven’t read that one, go and do so. It’s like American Gods, but a lot more fun.

    • Ah – the overhype! So dangerous. I was pretty reluctant to visit the pyramids for much the same reason – people told me they were ‘bigger than anything I could imagine.’ And yes, they’re big, but not as big as that.
      Not really going into American Gods with any expectations, I thought it was good fun. I agree about Anansi boys – that’s great too, and it was nice to catch up with Anansi again. Actually, it felt like meeting on old friend in the story.
      Thanks for dropping by! 🙂

    • It’s real escapism. I wouldn’t try and do anything too complex while reading it. It was engaging enough at the end that I couldn’t stop reading, even when I needed to get off my train! 🙂

  3. Pingback: American Gods, by Neil Gaiman « Booking It Up!

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