Another guest review from Angelya! This may well be the last one she writes for Once Upon A Time but I can’t be too sad about that as it’s because she is starting her own book blog which I’m very excited about. She’s still setting up at the moment but do make sure you say hi and follow her at The Oaken Bookcase!
Author: Neil Gaiman
Age Group: Adult
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 656 pages
Published: June 2001, 10th anniversary edition published June 2011
Source: Bought copy for Kindle
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Shadow had done three years in prison.
After three years in prison, Shadow is looking forward to getting out, taking a long bath and making love to his wife. As the big day approaches, however, things start to go downhill. Once he is actually released and meets a strange old man called Wednesday, things really start going… sideways.
Thus begins a strange, nightmarish journey across the United States, rallying old gods to the cause against the new, younger gods of Media and Technology. The story weaves in around fragments of tales of the peoples who brought their gods and beliefs to America, populating a country that is no place for gods.
This is an amazing book, but I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. It won plenty of awards, including Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker awards, and a few people have remarked to me that it’s one of their all-time favourite reads.
Neil Gaiman is a brilliant writer, with witty turns-of-phrase and an unrestrained imagination. This was the first of his books I’ve read and I’ll definitely be reading some of his other works.
The stories collected in it about different peoples coming to America and bringing their gods and beliefs are fascinating, some horrible, some hopeful. I loved the idea of the story, that gods exist because people believe in them and they feed on worship and sacrifices and fade away if they are forgotten. I liked the little blessings that the gods gave to Shadow along his journey. I thought the coin tricks were a little odd at first, but they grew on me as the story went on. I also liked the character of Laura. She seemed optimistic all the time, which is admirable in a corpse. I also liked that Shadow never wavered in his love for her.
So why didn’t I particularly enjoy American Gods?
The story was very dark and disturbing at times and generally depressing, which occasionally made me reluctant to continue to read. It depressed me that humans have always made sacrifices to gods – food, time, money, children, animals, sometimes even themselves, in the belief that this will make theirs or their people’s situation better. I was constantly reminded of this with every fragment of story and it cast a gloom over the whole book to me.
I felt that even though the individual characters were well-written for their part in the story, it wasn’t obvious enough who some of them were intended to be and there were a lot of vague references to what I can only assume are ancient gods or mythical figures. They were written as though the reader should know them – it made me feel sometimes as though there was an inside joke that hadn’t been shared.
The story meandered a lot, as the main characters traveled around the country, which made the story feel like it wasn’t moving towards anything. It didn’t really start ramping up until close to the end, and even then the final showdown was a bit of a fizzer. The ending, while it did resolve in a satisfying way, left me feeling that not much had actually changed.
I found it strange that there is very little mention of the other stakeholders who have something to lose to the likes of media and technology – the deities of major religions such as Christianity, Islam or Judaism, and only a small mention of Hindu gods. Perhaps the author was just playing it safe, or perhaps those deities aren’t worried about being forgotten and were sitting back in their churches while the storm was gathering, fat and happy. Who knows?
American Gods is being made into a television series, to be aired in the United States during 2013. I have mixed feelings about watching it on the screen – the story was depressing and disturbing enough when I was reading about it, but I’d be morbidly curious to see how they put it together. It could end up being one of those adaptations that will be quite difficult to understand unless you have some idea already of what is going on.
The book is, and certainly the TV series will be, definitely adults only – plenty of messy violence, graphic sex and bad language. You have been warned!
I know it sounds like I really didn’t like this book but while I did not particularly enjoy the process of reading it, it is a fascinating and extremely well-written book and I would encourage you to read it and form your own opinion.