American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Are the words ‘American’ and ‘Gods’ (plural) mutually exclusive? I guess that’s the question behind this strange and delightfully colourful offering from Neil Gaiman.

Those of you who follow this blog are probably sick of my excuses for sporadic posting. But let me assure you, I have not fallen off the face of the earth – just off my home continent. This review comes to you lovingly and belatedly from Paris, and during my travels, I’ve been tackling American Gods. Over 600 pages long, it’s ‘odd and meandering’ – to quote the author himself. However, if you give American Gods a shot, you will be rewarded with a weird and wonderful journey across the USA – featuring ancient (and modern) mythologies from around the world, and one of the most bizarre sex scenes you’ll ever read. You have been warned.

The story begins when Shadow is released from prison a few days early. But time shaved off his three year sentence is no cause for celebration – it’s an opportunity to attend his wife’s funeral. As he makes his way home, Shadow meets a mysterious character called Mr Wednesday, with an uncanny knack for persuasion and a job proposition. With nothing left to go home to, Shadow accepts. Together, he and Wednesday travel across America, rounding up exiled gods who’ve been carried by their followers across the sea, only to be forgotten in the modern world.

So, should you read this book? The best thing about Neil Gaiman is he writes stories that are both indulgently imaginative and 100% not suitable for children. He’s the sort of author you can enjoy almost passively, letting the words wash over you while your imagination does the work. He appeals to the big kid within.

When I finished American Gods (and that did take some time), I had to set the book down and stare at it for a minute or two. Perhaps this is a bizarre reaction, but it seems to happen when I’ve just read something special. Gaiman writes brilliant fantasy, but he also works in some really thoughtful observations about the way we contemporary human beings view the world – who and what we worship and how that gives meaning to our lives. Whether it be a god or the television set.

I guess the main issue with American Gods is that it’s a little too meandering for my taste. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but was never quite gripped. It was a lovely literary experience rather than a race to the final page. Because the book is also quite lengthy, this meant I spent quite a long time reading it and it wasn’t an ideal choice post-exams/during an overseas holiday. Another thing – it’s simply, incredibly weird. I loved that, but many readers won’t.

I’m sure American Gods won’t be for everyone, but Neil Gaiman is a fantastic writer. I couldn’t pick just one quote to share with you, so here’s three for good measure. If you like what you read but don’t feel up to the whole book, I would recommend trying Neverwhere which I have reviewed here.

“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”

“Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives.”

“Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.”

6 thoughts on “American Gods by Neil Gaiman

  1. I love American Gods. For me the beauty of the novel is the original way in which it plays the age-old idea of the traditional vs the new in such a wonderful narrative. The metaphors will be lost on nobody and I certainly liked the idea of the old gods travelling to North America. People who are interested in ancient cultures, myths and dead religions will especially enjoy it. Love it or hate it, it is an easy book to appreciate.

    • Very well put, I absolutely agree. Not for everyone but easy to appreciate. I think HBO are looking to pick it up for a TV series which will definitely be interesting considering how popular their flagship shows seem to get.

  2. American Gods is my favorite Neil Gaiman, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read it. Sure, I know what happens at the end, but everytime I read it I pick up another hint, another detail, something subtle that I missed before. LOVE iT SO MUCH!

  3. This sounds so great. I have a huge backlog of Neil Gaiman books I have to go through, I plan to get to this one eventually. By your review, I should do it sooner rather than later 🙂

    Btw, love the background on your blog. So dreamy.

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