I haven’t been this excited about discovering an author in a long long time. Easy read? Yes, maybe – at a first glance, anyway. Middlebrow – since the word goes around a lot. But that’s the brilliance of his book – it’s not hard to read or to follow, yet you don’t feel like you’re wasting time. It’s gripping, it’s a page turner filled with the most interesting characters – a gathering of gods and a clash of mythologies. I’ve read Good Omens, which he wrote with Terry Pratchett and I was left in doubt, but now I know – I love Neil Gaiman. 😀 I sound like a 12 year old – and only because the book took me back to that kind of enthusiasm I had for reading when I was 12 – pure joy 🙂
And when I said “easy” – I meant smooth. Because otherwise, it’s something of a spider web, in every corner there’s a new character, and a new god. It’s pretty hard to discover them all – a lot harder if you haven’t a clue about the Nordic, Egyptian, Indian or African mythologies (sadly, I’m stuck only with the Greeks and Romans). But this way it turned out to be not only fun, but also quite instructive.
So…where to start? The basic plot line is simple: Shadow, a convict serving a 6-year sentence is released from prison 3 days earlier because his wife (who he loved very much and was anxious to see) died in a car crash. On his way back, he meets Wednesday and agrees, after drinking his mead and fighting with Mad Sweeney (a fight he later finds out was staged by Wednesday to test him) to work for him as driver and all-round help. They embark on a trip during which Shadow will learn that we walk amongst the forgotten gods of the old world – all in human shape now. And they’re all dieing and being replaced by the modern-day gods: TV, internet, media, Town, Stone, Wood, cars, trains, planes etc. This is why I got into reading this book – this idea right here, I just love it. The modern gods are given very little space in the book – they’re only apparitions every once in a while, dull and single-minded individuals (Media, for example, who makes the characters in TV shows speak to Shadow, resorts to the usual tricks: sex and violence), while the gods of old are fascinating, wise creatures (well, they’re bound to be wiser, they’re been around for thousands of years 😀 ) still surrounded by magic. I also found the idea of the little “interludes” to be very interesting, as they show how some gods came to America (Odin, Anansi), how some were forgotten even in the old days (the story of Nunyunnini) or even how some departed (the Ifrit).
This whole “road-trip” idea is very American in its essence too, and the road trip, though taken with the purpose of being part of the final confrontation between old and new, between material and spiritual, ends up being the road to self discovery of a grown man who arises from his initial confusion towards going “behind the curtain” and revealing what the gods themselves didn’t have eyes to see. His visions as he hangs from the tree (reenacting Odin’s hanging from Yggdrasil) and his descent in the underworld (which I expected to happen ever since Laura’s return; but – wrongly – as an Orpheus) are two of the best moments in the book. Plus, there’s that one memorable line delivered by the raven (ravens in literature seem to have rather memorable roles 😀 ): “Hey, Hugin or Munin, or whoever you are. Say ‘Nevermore.'” The raven responds, “Fuck you.”. And Bast – the woman-cat of the Egyptians, who lives in the little town of Cairo with Jacquel (Anubis) and Mr. Ibis (Thoth), the three Zoryas, the three Norns (I love how this mythological weaving of each one’s fate is spread throughout the entire Europe) or the African spider god Mr. Nancy (Anansi) all decaying, yet all powerfully magnetic are the salt and pepper spread all over this narration.
Two more things and I’m done: Hinzelmann is not a randomly chosen name (is there anything randomly chosen in this book? I think not…) but a kobold and the legend of Paul Bunyan (a common pop-cult reference which I never understood) and his rivalry with Johnny Appleseed (a symbol of the rivalry between real and made up folk heroes).
I’m still under Mr. Gaiman’s spell, and maybe that’s why I didn’t write something more coherent. In the end, only the gods are real 🙂
PS: 1. American Gods + Ligia’s pictures => now I really really want to go to America 😛
2. A full list of deities, a map of Shadow’s travels and a page dedicated to speculations about the forgotten god: http://www.frowl.org/gods/index.html. A lot of fun. 😀
3. With “Anansi Boys” and “Fragile Things” my list of books to buy and read is growing at a worring speed :-O
4. (almost forgot about this one) Happy Easter 😉