American Gods by Neil Gaiman

There are stories that are true, in which each individual’s tale is unique and tragic, and the worst of the tragedy is that we have heard it before, and we cannot allow ourselves to feel it too deeply. We build a shell around it like an oyster dealing with a painful particle of grit, coating it with smooth pearl layers in order to cope.

From American Gods.

There is just something about Gaiman’s stories that lingers with you. Not all of them leave as deep a stamp as American Gods does, but many of them do, and some of them touches upon the heart of hearts when it comes to truths about life, death, belief and love. In American Gods Gaiman serves up profound reflections about mankind and man’s relation to society, the world as a whole, the universe. Love, sex, dreams, violence, friendship, hate, fear.

In American Gods Gaiman tells the story of ex-convict Shadow, who is released from prison only to discover that the woman he loved and lost in a car accident had betrayed him, in the last moments of her life. Lost and rootless, Shadow accepts the offer to work as a handy-man, or body guard of sorts, for a man named Wednesday, whom he meets on an airplane. (Could this be a reference to Adams and his The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, where a certain Norse God appearing in this scene plays an important role? One can only speculate, probably a long shot.) Caught in the middle of a war between the Gods of Old and the newer deities, gods of Media, Highways and Computors, Shadow travels through America as Mr. Wednesday’s hired help, across a country that is a place of exitement and joy, of wonder and beauty, of decadence and filth. The America depicted in American Gods is as transient as it is eternal.

The novel is littered with lovable, fearful, terrible, beautiful, ugly and wonderful women. Beautiful portraits of the female characters, deities or not. Mothers, sisters, daughters, lovers. Gaiman deserves praise for his female portraits, they are as multi faceted as they are respectful.  Samantha Black Crow, the energetic, vivacious, brave and creative young woman who studies women’s history and casts in bronze and hitch-hikes fearlessly. The goddess Eostre, or Easter, who is the goddess of spring and dawn, of life and regeneration. Or Bast, the catlike egyptian godess who weighs the acts and hearts of men and women, against a feather, with Ibis and Anubis,  when they are condemned to their after lifes. And, perhaps the most moving portrait of all, the portrayal of Shadow’s wife Laura, who is one of the greatest heroes of the story despite the fact that she has comitted an unforgivable sin in cheating on her husband.

There is so much to be said about this novel. It’s scope is enormous. We touch upon mythology from all ages and from the different corners of the world. Interspersed with the chapters moving the story of Shadow forward are short scenes showing one or other fate of a deity. Some of these are haunting, others thrilling, all of them moving. American Gods is more than a novel. It’s a journey of the mind. It’s a feeling, at the root of your heart. It’s a truly magical reading experience.

 

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams is probably most widely known for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but he has also written a humoristic detective novel with roots in the fantasy genre. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (best title ever?) is the second novel starring private detective Dirk Gently in a leading role (the first novel is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which I have not read). The novel has strong influences of norse mythology, with gods Thor and Odin making cameo appearances.

The book opens with the narrator’s thoughts on airports and their inherent ugliness, but soon moves focus to Kate Schecther, the key character in the first scene, who is standing in line at Heathrow. Adams goes on to reveal Schechter’s motifs and reasons for being at said ugly airport, we get a glimpse of her background and Adams swiftly gives us an idea of what type of a person she is. We are informed that she is not really superstitious, but at present time she is doubting whether the Universe is trying to tell her that she should not go to Norway (where she is heading), and we also understand that she is acctually going to Norway in order to meet a man of dubious morale. Schechter has lived in several different places during her life, a restless soul, and she lost her husband five years ago. This terrible loss is just touched upon briefly, mentioned before the narrator moves on to the subject of pizza, and the lack of home deliveries thereof in the U.K., as if the narrator as well as Schetcher prefer not to think of the lost love.

After that, the crazy plot starts to unravel and it’s just a matter of leaning back and enjoying the ride. Expect the unexpected.

I was astounded by the great flow of the text as I read this book, the simplicity of Adams’ story-telling is truly captivating. Adams skillfully depicts the inner thoughts and musings of the different characters’ with humour and clarity, without stalling the action too much, at the same time as he anchors the characters and the plot to their surroundings. Tedious, normal people mingle with gods and supernatural beings, the real places are intertwined with the places that are not, myth becomes reality.