American Gods - Neil Gaiman
published 2005, Headline, 656pages
I have to be honest I am a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s work and to not state that outright will be a poor attempt to disguise my bias. I own several versions of American God’s and have read them all but I like to come back to this edition as my re-read. Why? I do not know I just prefer the version and enjoy making my way through the novel and all its intricacies.
I first read the book in 2007 and I think a gap of seven years is a nice time to come back to it.
Days before his release from prison for armed robbery, Shadow is informed that his wife Laura has died in a car accident. His hopes of returning to a job, a loving wife and new beginnings are dashed. On the way home Shadow meets Mr Wednesday, a mysterious character who hints at a world of Gods and the possibility of a war between the old and new Gods. That is the superficial level of the novel but it is much deeper than that.
Gaiman is the master of creating a rich tapestry of myths and everyday life into a believable alternative. He is wonderful at holding up a mirror to society in an ever so subtle way. It is not rammed down your throat but as you read through the novel all elements slowly emerge.
Over the generations the old Gods, their myths and stories have been brought to the new world by the migrants to America. Over time those beliefs have faded away as people no longer attest to them and have moved onto new Gods, technology. The old Gods still cling to existence, some taking new forms, some have resigned themselves to be forgotten and some long for a return to power. Even the new Gods suffer the same anxieties as the old Gods as they come to realise the folly and short attention span of their followers. What binds the old and new is the need to be remembered, to not be replaced, to remain in the hearts and minds of the people as being relevant.
The one area of the novel that is quite horrifying is Lakeside, the quintessential American town, low unemployment, a happy and caring community but the reality is so much darker. You know there is something wrong and you wonder how people can turn a blind eye to what is happening. Yet the horror of what happens is easily cast aside for a tranquil existence and this is where you feel sickened. It is a difficult section to read because of what it implies about society in general, that we are happy to overlook evil as long as it does not impact directly on me.
The characters are all wonderful and complex. All the characters lifted off the page and Shadow especially so. Shadow is our entry into the world, he provides us with a way to navigate all the different people and places. What I love about Shadow is that basically he is a loyal man who is nice. He is the kind of guy who would give you the shirt of his back if you needed it. I enjoyed figuring out which Gods where making an appearance and how they are attempted to survive.
An open message to Neil Gaiman please give Sam her own novel. I just would like to know more of her story.
This novel works on so many levels it is hard to categorise in simplistic terms and that is what I love about it.
Check out Neil Gaiman's website.