American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman cut his writing teeth in the graphic novel genre with landmark books like The Sandman, before turning his attention to ‘serious’ literature ie books without pictures in. American Gods – his first ‘proper book’ had been suggested a few times previously in book club and eventually it popped onto the table and stuck.

And I’m really glad it did.

It’s worth highlighting that this book is massive in a couple of ways. Firstly it’s around 600 pages (which would normally have us running for the hills) and secondly the scale and sweep of the storytelling is metaphorically huge.

American Gods is based around an elegantly simple and highly original premise that the global diaspora that gravitated to America over the last 200 years all brought their gods with them. These gods became as much a part of the birth and growth of the United States of America as the people did. Then, as generations passed, these traditional gods became more and more marginalised and discarded when ultimately new gods took their place – gods of television, machinery and the internet.

What an idea.

These forgotten gods then continued to live amongst men, as men, forlorn and desperate to find relevance in a world that has moved on. The Norse gods loom large and are central to the development of the narrative leading to the perhaps inevitable battle between good and evil. As the story unfolds, we encounter all manner of mythical beings –  from ancient Egyptian gods to Irish leprechauns. It sounds bizarre and it is.

Gaiman’s visual style of writing suits this subject matter beautifully and he brings alive the characters in vivid detail. If you were to pigeonhole this book it would be in the fantasy horror genre but to do so would be a huge disservice to the ambition of the author. It’s more than a cult title for geeks – it delivers brilliantly original storytelling to a wider audience.

Shadow  – the enigmatic blank canvas of a central character around which Gaiman constructs this otherworldly book. I was frustrated that he didn’t build him out further but the point was made in the book club that perhaps that was the author’s intention to create a central character that was almost a cipher. I’m not sure I buy that 100% but you know what, I forgive him as the rest of the book is so engaging.

I have to say I consumed this book eagerly, each page urging me on although at times this ‘author’s edition’ of the book felt a little indulgent but that’s a minor quibble for me. All in all this is a fantastically satisfying book and I was not surprised to learn that a HBO style TV series is planned. American Gods is tailor made for adaptation as it’s bang in the sweet spot of the cool genre of high production sci fi horror like True Blood, Dexter, Walking Dead and Heroes. If you like them, you’ll love this.

Highly recommended. 9 out of 10.



One thought on “American Gods

  1. Lovely post Phil, this book really had it all and I was fascinated in reading it. I don’t come from a comic grounding but I think his visual eye and ability to mix fantasy into a “real” world really helped this novel. Shadow was a fascinating character, I read him as almost being a metaphor for america itself – a big hulking, potentially violent man who was caught up in his own history and beliefs. The way that Gaiman laid out an alternative history of America written by the countless people who got to America before Columbus, let alone the people who were already living there, was incredibly thought provoking and that allied with a classic road trip and hunt for the American Dream theme were brilliantly done. I wonder if an American could have written it ?

    It asked so many questions relating to belief, loyalty, history, sacrifice, friendship, economics, politics, culture it’s breadth being quite awe inspiring. I agree that it was a bit indulgent at times but some of the writing was so good I could forgive that and I galloped through it. The chapter on slavery was visceral and will long live in the memory.

    It would be a real shame if this book was dismissed by some as simply one for fantasy lovers. It’s so much more than that and deserves to be read by a wide audience.

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