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Daniel I Russell - Writer of Horror Fiction

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Monday, October 25, 2010

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

By the gods, I may have discovered the perfect novel!

This book had been recommended to me so many times that I eventually caved and bought this at the same time as Lindqvist's Let the Right One In. It took me a while to get to American Gods as, and I'll be honest,the page count was daunting. Yes, this is after reading Under the Dome and The Passage. Why would a 600ish page book put me off? Because I expected a long haul, and my to be read pile is so high, I could have got through two or three other titles in that time. Eventually, it had been at the back of the pile for too long. I had to read it.

What a pitiful fool I was.

Shadow is a large, simple man who got involved in a heist three years previous. After engaging in a little fisticuffs over missing loot, Shadow was sent to prison, and this is where we find him: at the end of his sentence, awaiting release in the coming days.

Something happens which not only gets him out early, but sends his life spinning into a surreal web of gods and deities spanning the length and breadth of America.

With mentions of a road trip, I expected American Gods to be something akin to King and Straub's epic The Talisman. Yes, there's some traveling, but nothing quite as road trippy. I would put this in the same camp as Barker's The Damnation Game perhaps. While I always saw that book as one of his weaker works, it's still a good read. Gaiman's novel is by far its superior and for one reason only.

Its intelligence.

Gaiman is an expert on mythology and this shines through in spades. You know that these characters and histories have been thoroughly researched and this adds weight to experience. If Zeus was living a mortal life...what would he be doing? Where would he work? Who would his friends be? Gaiman puts his own modern stamp on these beings, with the Queen of Sheeba working the street corners, Odin being a conman and Easter? Well, she's happy to walk around and letting the flowers grow.

The sheer cleverness comes through with the bad guys in the book. If gods exist because people worship them, then shouldn't modern life spawn its own gods? We have the god of technology, who is appropriately, a fat nerd child. Media is here as a glorified newscaster (I am Media, and the television is my alter). We even have shady FBI-esque guys that bear a resemblance to Agent Smith in The Matrix, who exist because 'people expect them to'. The whole set up is genius.

While I was initially concerned about pacing and the 600 pages to slowly plod along, I was delighted to find that Gaiman has an electric pace while still retaining the literary feel. He gets straight to the point and doesn't pad out the writing with flowery prose. The pages will scorch between your fingers. Shadow is such a beautifully simple and naive character that you invest heavily in him, and want to see what kind of man he will become at the end of his journey. You can see the development and it works well.

What are the flaws? Personally, I couldn't find one. In the edition I read there was an interview with Gaiman at the end (always enlightening to listen to a writer talk about his novel) and a few bookclub suggested questions. That was my flaw actually. I'm not a fan of bookclubs. Nothing against you if you attend one, but from experience, I find the journey of reading a book to be a very personal one. I can read reviews and quite enjoy doing that, but if I was face to face and a guy was telling me my opinion of a book was wrong and then tried to alter my experience...nah, not for me. So yeah, the only fault for me was the questions at the end.

I may have found a new favourite author here and I'll have to delve deeper into his other works. Gripping, humerous, magical and very, very clever...I can't recommend this book enough.

As always, a quick Amazon purchase link is to the left.

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Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 7:39 pm :: 0 comments

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