Aug 1, 2011

Book Review–American Gods 10th Anniversary Ed.

amgodI have only ever read two books by Neil Gaiman(please don’t lynch me) and they have both been religiously themed, i.e., Good Omens and American Gods.  I can’t for the life of me think why it’s taken so long to getting around to this one.

In my defence, while this 10th Anniversary Edition is a review copy, I do actually own another battered copy of its first iteration, unread, along with its spin-off sibling Anansi Boys- both languish on the TBR shelf.

The story, for the uninitiated…
After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the time until his release ticks away, he can feel a storm brewing. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.
Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town. But the storm is about to break... Disturbing, gripping and profoundly strange, Gaiman's epic new novel sees him on the road to the heart of America. [Headline Books]

So how can one give a review of a book that is beloved of so many, which has been read and reviewed over the last decade and still be fresh.

I’ll try.

Gaiman weaves a number of threads together in this work.  It’s a story about gods, travel murder, change,  gah! the more I pick at it the more things it seems to be.  So to begin I’ll break it down.

Neil Gaiman meets Route 66
American Gods felt very much like a road trip, despite the fact that a significant portion of the travel in the book was by plane.  Perhaps it’s mention of certain American landmarks and iconic places .  Maybe the stereotypes that the gods inhabit, hark back to an older America.  I feel the weight of nostalgia, for things lost in a vast open landscape.

That Gaiman can generate this feeling in me I think speaks for the strength of his prose, as in retrospect, there’s not actually that much travel.

Everyone comes to America, even the gods.
Aiding this perception is the fact that it’s an immigrant tale as well. A tale of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses and the gods they carried with them. Many of the gods bear the accents and the mannerisms of the culture they spring from and in Shadow traveling to meet them, the reader is given a sense of the cultural diversity that is the melting pot of America, the gods journey there and their slow strung out demise.

Yggdrasil versus the Matrix
Entwined with these themes is that of change, old gods versus new - the gods of internet, credit cards and fibre optics. Is this is a comment on what America has become, a land of the almighty dollar, the land of the instant gratification? I am not sure.

The Missing God
One thing that did strike me as odd was the omission of Jesus.  If any god would be in America you’d think it would be Jesus, but he’s conspicuous in his absence, apparently he’s in Afghanistan.  Did Gaiman do this deliberately?  He mentions Jesus in the twitter interview printed in the back of this version, but it doesn’t answer the question of Jesus’ absence or apparent aloofness. Was he playing it safe?

Murder Mystery & Confidence Tricks
There’s a murder mystery entwined in the story as well, but the less said about that the better as it’s a nice little twist.

There’s coin tricks and confidence tricks through out the novel, magic and misdirection. Gaiman uses it both as plot device and on a meta level(this should hit you at the end, or before, if you are sharper than me). There’s something about old time confidence tricks that harks back to a bygone America, face to face cons that required an understanding of human psychology.

Summing up
This is the authors preferred text, it’s a little longer and obviously varies from the first itteration. It includes a twitter interview, as well as a novella featuring Shadow called Monarch of the Glen.  I doubt that I would go back and read the first edition, it’s not a tale that I think, given my present reading load, that would be of any benefit and this is after all  Gaiman’s preferred story.
For Gaiman fans that haven’t read this version, it would be worth it if you haven’t read the tale in awhile.  American Gods is not one of those pacey pot boilers you read in an afternoon.  It’s a book to be savoured and enjoyed, it’s a book that requires attention.

For some one who is new to Gaiman I’d recommend this version.  It’s not as I have said a pacey read, but an unfolding journey of discovery with a couple of twists that I and perhaps you won’t see coming.

This was a review copy provided by Headline.

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