Friday, 4 April 2014

Review | American Gods by Neil Gaiman

by Neil Gaiman

My Rating: 

Days before his release from prison, Shadow's wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.

Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.

When it comes to Neil Gaiman's books I find I have to be in the right kind of mood to read one. There's something about his style, the way he narrates his stories, that leaves me feeling oddly uncomfortable; like the world's a little weirder than it was before I turned the page. This is one of the reasons why despite owning several of Gaiman's works I've only read three: Neverwhere, Smoke and Mirrors, and now American Gods.
American Gods was one of those books I passed in the book shop a lot, and whenever I passed it I almost always picked it up, read the back, and then put it back down. It intrigued me, but I just wasn't sure if it would be my kind of thing. I eventually bought myself a copy - I can't even remember why, I think I just wanted to add it to my ever growing personal library - and I'm ashamed to say it sat on my shelf for at least two years before I picked it up.

I think you have to read certain books at the right time. Had I not read this book when I did, had I read it a few years ago when I first bought it, I probably wouldn't have liked it that much. I had no real intention of making myself read it this year, but during my Christmas holiday I found myself in a bit of a reading slump, as I often do after three months of university, and this book kept staring at me from my shelf. It was as though it was beckoning me closer. So in January I finally picked it up and was immediately sucked in.

American Gods is often referred to as Gaiman's 'masterpiece', and after reading it myself I can see why. So much thought and research and darn good writing went into this book. I really enjoyed Neverwhere when I read it, but it pales in comparison to American Gods.

I loved Shadow as a protagonist. This is unusual for me considering that when we first meet Shadow he doesn't really have much of a personality of his own; he's very inclined to letting everybody else pull and push him from here to there. He's what I call a 'flim-flam man'. Even so he was captivating, and as the book wore on he certainly came into his own. By the time I got to the last page it was as though I was reading about a completely different man to the one I met on the first page, and I love when characters progress that much; it's an especially admirable feat for a protagonist to change so much over the course of one novel, rather than a series, without that change feeling rushed.

What makes Shadow easier to follow for readers who perhaps don't find him particularly interesting is the book's fantastic cast of supporting characters; I loved Mr Wednesday, Mr Nancy and Czernobog, and I adored Easter. She was one of my favourites. The characters we met in flashbacks, for lack of a better word, were also a lot of fun to follow. They had nothing to do with Shadow's story, but they really fleshed out the version of America Gaiman decided to portray.

The main conflict in this book is between the Old Gods, deities from mythology and theology all over the world, and the New Gods, such as Media, goddess of television. I loved this conflict between the old melting pot of America and the objects of material worth that we associate with a lot of America today - I just thought it was clever!

There is something of a twist in the end, and I realised what it was going to be just before it happened, as I imagine the majority of readers have, but it was still a great twist. I love the direction the story took as it allowed Shadow to grow into the hero of the tale.

My only criticisms of the book would be that I would have liked more female characters interacting with other female characters. Other than the Zorya sisters the only other major female characters - Laura, Easter and Media - either always appeared alone or with a group of men. Considering American Gods is possibly being made into a television show it'd be a shame to miss out on a few positive female relationships.

Also the flashback scenes, while fascinating, sometimes felt a little longer than they needed to be. I loved that Gaiman littered the novel with the arrival of certain mythological figures/creatures in America, but sometimes those scenes felt a little more like a lesson in mythology than scenes that were adding to the story.

Other than that, however, I did love this book, as you can probably tell by my rating. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone - particularly lovers of mythology!

Thanks for reading! J.

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