Shadow’s life is turned upside down when he finds out his wife Laura has died in a car crash. Directionless, only just released from prison, a man called Mr Wednesday offers him a job. Shadow finds himself in the centre of a mysterious and unseen war between the American Gods, old and new.
American Gods had been on my to-read list for years. But as with so many other books, it never quite made it to the top of the pile. Then, of course, Amazon picks it up and makes a TV series out of it. A fortnight of panic reading ensues as there’s no way I’m letting them spoil it for me.
I’m almost glad I waited until now. This is an incredible story, but I feel like I was ready for it now more than I would have been, say, five years ago. Neil Gaiman is, hands down, one of the best writers currently writing, but this novel is really something else.
Good craftsmanship is the ability to keep you embedded in the created world for the length of the book. To convince you, while you’re reading, that the world is real. However, books like American Gods doesn’t just do that. Authors like Neil Gaiman create worlds within their pages which alter your outlook on the real world, sticking with you long after you’ve finished reading.
I’ve always had a love of mythology. With a Greek Cypriot grandfather, the stories of Greek gods were always very special to me. I remember he had a wooden plaque of the god Dionysus/Bacchus and told me about the God turning sailors into dolphins. As I got older, I became more interested in the concept of mythology. Debating why we create these myths, how they survive and what they mean to us has always been one of my hobby-horses. If that is at all an interest of yours, then American Gods should really be on your must read.
Not to mention that with the teams of conmen and secret identities, I was sold. I’ve always loved stories about duplicity and identity so this was perfectly my kind of story. Every character is a mystery and beautifully crafted. I have a massive soft spot for Mr Wednesday, Media and Shadow, Mr. Nancy and too many to list. Given the ridiculous amount of time I spend on the internet, I really appreciated The Technical Boy as every troll you’ll ever have the misfortune of bumping into.
A real standout feature of the book are the beautifully written vignettes. That was something of a surprise to me! I don’t usually like these random chapters in books and tend to skip over them if they don’t relate to the plot. And Neil Gaiman is definitely an author who likes to take a meandering route to his final destination. But in this case, these little vignettes were too special to ignore. My absolutely favourite of these was the story of Essie Tregowan, the savvy woman from Cornwall who was a thief, con artist and prostitute. Over a few pages, Neil Gaiman lays out her life and makes you empathise and root for her.
What I also found fascinating is the considerable amount of American culture written from the point of view of a British author living in the States. I’ve spent a fair few holidays in the states, not to mention the sheer amount of television and movies I watch which come from across the pond, but I saw so many things in a whole new way.
A word for parents! This book has copious amounts of sex and violence, but never to a gratuitous or unnecessary degree. It’s an amazing book, but probably not for kids. The TV series on Amazon Prime is leaning on the Game of Thrones type model; blood, nudity and all sorts of fun. But so far – at episode six – I’m enjoying it. Despite television’s style and instinct telling it to be way more heavy handed with its information than the book, it’s still keeping to the meditative pace and it’s kept the vignettes which I massively appreciate.
It’s made it into my top twenty and that’s not an easy list to get on. If it’s not obvious, I’m recommending this book to everyone who can read or hear an audiobook. No matter how you react to it, you will gain something.