Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman (author website)
Release Date: June 19th 2001 by Headline
Age Group: Adult
It's no secret I'm completely, utterly and blindingly in love with uuhhhh, a most ardent fan of Neil Gaiman. I know this isn't the type of book I'd normally review here, but a few weeks ago I mentioned I was a fan of mythology-based stories, and I seriously, seriously am. And Neil Gaiman is a master of it. He has such an unique grasp on folk tales and stories, and when you read Stardust and American Gods, you'll love the vaguely perverse way he weaves these stories. Both familiar and profoundly strange, they have that feel of 'real' old fashioned fairy stories and verbal-mythologies. Dark, twisted, and not necessarily with a Disney ending. But I digress: I love Neil Gaiman, and I just couldn't.... not, share my thoughts on this book with you. While perhaps not the most accessible of Gaiman's work (try Stardust or The Graveyard Book), American Gods is a modern masterpiece.
The storm was coming...Shadow spent three years in prison, keeping his head down, doing his time. All he wanted was to get back to the loving arms of his wife and to stay out of trouble for the rest of his life. But days before his scheduled release, he learns that his wife has been killed in an accident, and his world becomes a colder place.On the plane ride home to the funeral, Shadow meets a grizzled man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A self-styled grifter and rogue, Wednesday offers Shadow a job. And Shadow, a man with nothing to lose, accepts.But working for the enigmatic Wednesday is not without its price, and Shadow soon learns that his role in Wednesday's schemes will be far more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. Entangled in a world of secrets, he embarks on a wild road trip and encounters, among others, the murderous Czernobog, the impish Mr. Nancy, and the beautiful Easter--all of whom seem to know more about Shadow than he himself does.Shadow will learn that the past does not die, that everyone, including his late wife, had secrets, and that the stakes are higher than anyone could have imagined.All around them a storm of epic proportions threatens to break. Soon Shadow and Wednesday will be swept up into a conflict as old as humanity itself. For beneath the placid surface of everyday life a war is being fought -- and the prize is the very soul of America.As unsettling as it is exhilarating, American Gods is a dark and kaleidoscopic journey deep into myth and across an America at once eerily familiar and utterly alien. Magnificently told, this work of literary magic
A Storm is Coming.
The day before Shadow is due to be released from prison, he's called to the warden's office. His wife, Laura, is dead.
Free, and on his route home to Laura's funeral, he encounters a strange old man who calls himself Wednesday. Wednesday--who claims to be a god--knows more about Shadow than he possibly should, and Shadow, reluctantly, agrees to work for him. Led by Wednesday, Shadow is taken on a profoundly strange journey across the USA. A journey to help Wednesday recruit fellow gods, mythical figures and culture heroes to his side of the oncoming storm: a battle of truly epic proportions.
There is something totally unique about Gaiman's writing: instantly recognisable; utterly charming; and deceptively simplistic, when it's anything but. American Gods is no exception. It's brilliant, beautiful, and profoundly strange. The story starts off in an oddly detached fashion. For a while I wondered about this, until you learn more about Shadow. You're experiencing the world through his lens, and detached is exactly what he is. With his wife's death, he's shocked into numbness. When he learns of a painful betrayal on her part, that numbness crystallises, leaving him encased in a protective shell he wears as goes about what's left of his life. Nothing--and I mean nothing--shocks the guy anymore, as it never reaches his core. Nothing can shock him more than what he experiences in the opening chapters of the story.
"This isn't about what is," said Mr Nancy. "It's about what people think is. It's all imaginary anyway. That's why it's important. People only fight over imaginary things."
In addition to Shadow's tale, we also get glimpses into the back-story of other characters, with a chapter here and there telling the story of an immigrant to America arriving, and bringing their gods with them, or following one of the numerous gods who make up the story. Gaiman's take on folklore, cultural stories and myth is extraordinary, and it grounds American Gods in a world that is tantalising familiar--one of stories and tales you recognise, you have heard, you’ve known, your whole life.
American Gods is a long story, and at times is confronting, meandering, fast-paced, slow-paced, funny and witty, deeply philosophical, or utterly absurd (which, of course, is Gaiman at his very best). It's not always an easy read, but it's a very satisfying one. I loved it, and it's a story I can't imagine having been written of anyone less than Neil Gaiman.As another reviewer observes, the book is the story of the "the battle for the soul of America". Gaiman's cutting observations of American culture and life are pure genius. The parts of the nation we visit are charming, and the back drop to the tale is a delightful country of contradictions and opposites: a world embracing modern technology, yet still deeply a product of a rich past. Do we embrace our past as a part of our future? Or do we push it aside and become a world of McDonald's, Starbucks and chain stores? Is there room for both our past and our future in our changing world?
"We need individual stories. Without individuals we see only numbers: a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead, 'casualties may rise to a million'. With individual stories, the statistics become people--but even that is a lie, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless...
We draw our lines around these moment of pain, and remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. They are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearl-like, from our souls without real pain."
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