Book Review – American Gods
American Gods: Neil Gaiman (2001)
Given the arrival of the TV series and the fact that my sister and two of my work colleagues had all read this, I was under strict instruction to get it read as soon as possible so that I could join in the various discussions. I did, and I’m glad to have read this, but I have to say I have no intention of re-reading it.
The book follows Shadow, an ex-con whose main skills are coin tricks, being big, and a casual disregard for his own safety, falling in with the ‘mysterious’ Mr Wednesday (an American incarnation of Odin). He finds himself caught up in Wednesday’s intended war between the Old Gods of ancient lore and the New Gods of modern society, travelling around America alternately helping him and laying low while his enemies look for them.
I can’t call this a bad book because it quite clearly isn’t, but at the same time I found it ponderous and quite a struggle to keep interested in. It felt to me as if at least two thirds of it was world building and setup – good quality world building and setup but not particularly fast-paced and hardly thrilling (and you’re talking to a man who loves his Norse mythology). I got the very real feeling that Gaiman had an interesting idea and (Tolkien Style) wanted to write about the world he’d made a lot more than he wanted to write an interesting story taking place there.
One of my main gripes, which other people seemed to like but just slowed it all down for me, was the random stories about other gods: The bits with Bilquis or the tax driver, or the old stories about slaves and the woman from Cornwall. The initial one with the Vikings was cool, but that was all the setup that was needed. The rest all seemed to be excuses for Gaiman to show off his research and cram in some ‘shock-factor’ sex-scenes. Did nothing to advance the plot and just felt pointless.
Now maybe it’s because I’m not American, but I found myself just not caring about the American incarnations of the Old World Gods. I spent the majority of the book thinking; ‘so, is there a Scandinavian Odin about back in Europe? Because his story is surely a lot cooler than this?’ Harsh I know, but that’s how I felt.
I also found Shadow to be fairly uninteresting, and his reasons for being so willing to do all the crazy things he does are pretty thin. Wednesday was a great character, but there wasn’t as much mystery to him as there was clearly supposed to be, nor was there to Mr World (whose identity I suspect we all worked out pretty early on). I didn’t find the twist on Odin’s plan particularly surprising, and the promised climax was, for want of a better word, pretty anticlimactic.
Something I did like very much was the surprise reveal at the end re ‘the trunk’ (see, I can avoid spoilers!). I thought that bit was cracking, and if more of the book had been like that I’d probably have liked it.
As I say at the top, I can’t call it a bad book because it isn’t a bad book, but for all its cleverness it wasn’t a book I particularly enjoyed, and getting through it felt like much more of a hard slog than it should have done.