Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Page Count/Review Word Count: 643
Well, I finally got round to reading it. So many different people with such seemingly incompatible tastes have recommended American Gods to me over the years that when I saw it for 99p in a charity shop, I knew what I had to do. I even put it off for a while after I bought it, but I wish I hadn’t – sure, the book looks pretty dense with its hundreds of pages, but the print is easy on the eyes and the story is gripping and entertaining right from the word go.
Loosely speaking, the story answers a question – what if the gods of old were still manifest and wandering around America? And what about the new gods, of media and the internet? Gaiman takes these thoughts to their logical conclusion and delivers an epic ballad of the 21st century, in which gods and goddesses are juxtaposed with New York City cab drivers and Vegas casinos.
The main character is an ex-con called Shadow, who leaves prison at the start of the story only to find that his wife has died in a car crash. He’s approached by a mysterious ‘man’ called Wednesday, who offers him a job on the spot, a job which Shadow reluctantly accepts.
I can’t say too much more, because I don’t want to ruin the story-line, but I think I can tell you that as it develops, you learn more and more about the gods and their current aims in early 00s America. Gaiman also dips in to the past from time to time, and every now and then at the end of a chapter you’ll be transported to America in the 1600s, or in the years long ago before the Roman Empire, in the days of the native Americans.
And it all adds to the story – it’s the kind of novel in which everything feels beautifully interrelated, as if every little thing happens for a reason and you ignore them at your peril. In fact, it has the same level of interconnection as a great crime novel – this is what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might have written had he lived in the 21st century. This is not a detective novel, but in many ways the secrets that the gods harbour could be classed as the ultimate mystery, and one that Shadow unravels throughout the book.
My copy of the book is marked ‘Author’s preferred text‘, and while I have nothing to base a comparison on, it seems crazy to me that anyone might want to read anything else. However, something weird happened at the end of my copy, and I have no idea why…
It’s hard to explain without showing you, but basically the book began again – in the middle of a sentence, as page 611 drew to a close, the narrative stopped. The following page was the author’s biography, and if you continued to read then it was exactly the same as the start of the book including the introduction and author’s note on the text, coming to a close at the end of the first chapter.
It’s hard to figure out whether this was a printing mistake or something that was deliberately included at the author’s request – after all, it does turn the narrative in to a sort of cycle, and perhaps it was supposed to be a point about the way that history repeats itself. It’s strange, because the sentence made perfect sense – here, the blue text shows you what was being said in the story, and the green text is Gaiman’s author bio: “And then they’ll go down and look and see Neil Gaiman is a messy-haired white male author trapped in the body of an identical white male author with perhaps even less-tidy hair.”