Thursday, 1 February 2018

American Gods - Neil Gaiman

American Gods is Gaiman's big hit, the core of Amazon Prime's drama strand and the centrepiece of what is referred to in the end papers of this tie-in paperback as "The American Gods Quartet". Turns out I have now read three of the four, I have read the novella Black Dog, which is definitely part of the Gods sequence, and I have read Anansi Boys, which I suspect really isn't. Both are reviewed on this blog. In a nutshell, I loved Black Dog (and particularly relished the illustration by Daniel Egneus) and enjoyed Anansi Boys though I thought it was a bit superficial in places.

The good news is, I loved American Gods. The writing was never superficial and the core idea - immigrants bring their gods with them to America, then forget about them, so what happens to the gods - was brilliant enough and deep enough to sustain the narrative. That said, there seems to have been an earlier version - this, Gaiman tells us, is a manuscript put together with the aid of Pete Atkins. It includes cuts made in the original manuscript and some new bits. All I can say is that any mashing together is expertly done and doesn't show.

Our hero is Shadow, about whom we don't learn much save that he went to prison for his wife, who has now died but still feels obliged to repay the favour. Shadow falls in with Wednesday, who is a bit of a flimflam man, and comes up against a digital agency where agents have names like Town and World. Lots of modern writers who have been taught the Joseph Campbell hero theory make it a subtext. Gaiman, being a natural storyteller and inspiringly disinhibited, gives us the full hero ordeal of death and rebirth.

Yet through it all the characters remain real, rounded, and largely likeable, even the worst of them. I also enjoyed the immigrant stories, tales of 'coming to America' which show us how the gods and supernatural entities made it across the Atlantic. These really deepen the text and at the same time preview much of what is to come.

American Gods is, in a nutshell again, magnificent.

NOTE: This particular edition contains a lot of extra material, none of which held my attention. It also includes the full text of the other novella, The Monarch of the Glen. I already have it on my KIndle and am saving it as a treat for later.

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