Tuesday, January 7, 2014

American Gods, Neil Gaiman



Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman (author website)
Release Date: June 19th 2001 by Headline
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 star5 star


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.
From Goodreads:
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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10 comments:

  1. I need to read this one. Well, really, I need to read more by Neil Gaiman in general. A friend of mine just LOVES him and I really enjoy what I've read so far from him.

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  2. I've recently discovered Gaiman and like you, am an ardent fan! ;) I'm listening to Stardust at the moment, actually, which is wonderful and this one sounds like the next book of his I should pick up. Great review - love to see Gaiman's books reviewed more often. It feels like I'm one of the last people to have discovered him!

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  3. Awesome review!! glad to see you back :)

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  4. Well, now you got me interested. I love me some Neil!

    Happy to see you back.

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  5. HEEEE, good to see you :D! Yes, his writing-style is unique and captivating. There is something special about it.

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  6. I think I could cry... I know you've been off doing more important things like becoming the most awesome mum but I've missed your face around here! I'm now smiling like an idiot in celebration of you having posted. It could have been about a review for a window cleaning product or you talking about paint drying and while I might have thought, hmm, odd, I would still have freaked out in excitement. This makes me happy. You make me happy. Ah, how I've missed you!!

    ...wait, you posted? Oh, right! That! I got distracted by YOU.

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  7. YAYAYA~! As always a review I wish I had written myself. I read American Gods a few years before I started blogging - and even so I couldn't ever put into words the way you do how awesome this book is. It's one of my favorites and it was actually my first Neil Gaiman book. You're right, it is sometimes not as easy to get into and compared to his others I've read - Coraline and The Graveyard Boy (since reading American Gods) it's much much deeper.

    It's surprising I loved it so much because I'm really NOT one for mythology. But that's Gaiman, he makes everything appealing. I loved the two crows/ravens. Thought and Memory. (Which made me think of American Gods when I was reading Bellman & Black where they make a cameo appearance here and there.) I LOVED Shadow beyond measure and when I was reading Fragile Things I was SO excited to find a short story in there that was about Shadow shortly after we leave him from American Gods - so definitely check that one out just for that story! :D Shadow is probably one of my favorite characters of all time, truth be told. There's just something about him.. he's so down to earth, he's downtrodden and yet he goes along on all these crazy adventures and accepts things as they are and let's them unfold, yet not completely unquestioning either.

    This is one book that I really need to reread one of these days!

    I hope you're doing good Saz! It's good to see you back on the blog, been missing you!! <3 Hope your New Year is going good so far!

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  8. YOU'RE BACK!

    AGDKNKJB;JNVDEJDNSHHGGAGFDGHDDHDKKFJHSHJFKMFNDKKSNDKLHFAEUOQOQYHYYEHGDN!!!!!!!!!!

    *breathes*

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  9. Sarah! SO good to see you reviewing again! And what a review to come back with! :) I'm a little scared to say that I've never read anything by Neil Gaiman... I have The Graveyard Book and this, and although American Gods sounds awesome, I think I would have to start with something a little easier first. I'm ever so slightly put off by Gaiman because of the movie of Stardust - it was only ok. I don't really want to read an "ok" book. Yet so many people rave about Gaiman, I really should pick something up. Thanks for the awesome review!

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  10. Books like this make you wonder why you don't read more Gaiman.
    After Sandman, I was curious to see how he'd fare in a novel.
    Fantasy must be unbelievable in the most believable of sorts. Instead of a world you can only imagine living in, Gaiman leaves you thinking of a world that could very well be the world you currently inhabit.
    That your current concept of reality is merely outdated. And Gods arent walking through you're streets simply because you choose not to see them.

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