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.

 

Neil Gaiman is working hard…

… writing the first episode of the HBO production of American Gods, as he mentions in this blog post. This is one of those things I can’t wait to see. I wonder who will be cast in the role as Shadow, or as Wednesday, as Laura, as Mr. Nancy. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

I’ve read American Gods twice (once in Swedish and once in English) and I think it’s a great novel. A powerful story, interesting characters, great feeling. I love stories where the only thing that separates what’s real and what’s surreal is a thin sheath of glass, where anything can happen provided the characters are up to it. I’ll be posting a review within the next few days.

Fantastical stories of love

Author Theodora Goss lists her Top 10 Fantasy Love Stories in this article. Among others she mentions Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife and Patricia A. McKillip’s The Riddle-Master trilogy. I was not familiar with all stories, but have heard of most of them and have read some of them.

One of my absolute favorites of fantasy love stories is the one depicted in Hayao Miyazaki’s film version of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel Howl’s Moving Castle. There is a tremendous beauty in the spell-breaking love that slowly evolves between the cursed Sophie and the wizard Howl.

 

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch is a story about the last days leading up to the Apocalypse. The story is told from several different P.O.V.’s, in shorter and longer scenes, eventually sewn together neatly at the end. Starring: meek-hearted angels and slick demons, wonderful witches and demented witchhunters, wise children and their unknowing parents, satanic nuns and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Before I got to know all the unique characters the reading experience was a bit scattered and fragmented, but once all the relationships and motives were established, everything was crystal clear.

It is a true accomplishment to write a funny story about such an ominous and depressing topic as the End of the World. The sophisticated and witty tone (slightly sardonic a times) of the story, the clashes and interactions between the characters and the silly foot notes all contribute to the hilariuosness of the novel. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something truly aweinspiring and magical about the combined writing forces of Gaiman and Pratchett;

Just because it’s a mild night doesn’t mean that dark forces aren’t abroad. They’re abroad all the time. They’re everywhere.

     They always are. That’s the whole point.

     Two of them lurked in the ruined graveyard. Two shadowy figures, one hunched and squat, the other lean and menacing, both of them Olympic-grade lurkers. If Bruce Springsteen had ever recorded “Born to Lurk”, these two would have been on the album cover.

I’ve read it twice, this far (once in Swedish and more recently in English) and I know I’ll read it again. It’s that type of story, that you want to return to over and over again, to re-discover the characters and parts you loved immediately, and to discover parts you didn’t notice the first time around.