American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Rating - Read if you have the time

Neil Gaiman was introduced to me through his collaborative book with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens. Another avid reader friend had recommended Good Omens and I promptly bought it.

Bit of history – I used to be in total thrall of Terry Pratchett for a while. Unfortunately after around ten books, I stopped enjoying him. I suspect I never actually got over him which explains why I own practically every book of his from the Discworld Series (I don’t have such a representation of any other author in my book shelf). So when I read Good Omens, I sort of liked it while I could not quite make up mind about it and figured that maybe Neil Gaiman was responsible for some of the more non-Pratchetty insights. A chance encounter with Amercian Gods in an airport bookshop and I had coughed up the necessary money.

The book’s premise is fairly simple. What do Gods who have slowly died from human memory do to stay in existence? What if they were competing with other new Gods? What if there was a war among the old and new Gods.

The setting is modern America and the old Gods are the ones who had come over with each wave of immigrants. The range varies from Horus to our very own Indian Ganesha. This being America, the new Gods are media, television and something along those lines. A newly released convict, Shadow is recruited for the oncoming war by old God Odin, masquerading as a human named Wednesday. Wednesday and Shadow go around lobbying other dying Gods to start and join the war. Shadow, meanwhile is haunted by his dead wife Laura. Through the course of the book, Shadow wanders through various towns in America, meets several old Gods, walks the ‘backstage’ space of the world and has a series of adventures before finally realizing the truth about the war.

The book’s theme is not particularly unique. Gaiman’s writing partner Pratchett did it much better in Small Gods and I am sure there are enough other books on this topic. Gaiman uses the theme to give us a bit of everything – history of the old gods, discourses on the state of affairs in America, some sci-fi type scenes, a lot of hard hitting murder and horror. All of them intelligent but none of them particularly thought-provoking. Add to it, you keep asking questions like ‘Did the Egyptians actually travel to the U.S. when Horus was still in fashion’, ‘Is Ganesha really a dying God in America’ (I would not think so given that most NRIs seem to be more religious than locals). ‘Why doesn’t Jesus figure in the book? Isn’t he a current God?’, ‘Can a physical war between old and new Gods actually kill off any of them considering the book’s basic premise is that the Gods exist because of their place in people’s lives’.

Overall it is an Ok read. I liked the beginning and the end and the book influenced me enough to have nightmares during its darkest bits. The book began to drag in the middle. Much patience was needed before I could get to the end. Mostly I stuck at it because I quite liked the taciturn central character, Shadow and wanted to see how he ended up.

I am not sure if I am going to read another Neil Gaiman in a hurry unless someone tells me American Gods was not among his better books and I really ought to try a different one.


entropy said...

Check out Gaiman's graphic novels. He is better known for those. They are quite dark though.'Coraline' is good to start with - not too scary.

p.s. Landmark has a few.


Anita said...

entropy - Thanks. Will check out the graphic novel.

rohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.

Anita said...

rohit - Thanks. Hope you enjoy Small Gods.