American Gods – Neil Gaiman

I started on American Gods with high expectations. For the longest time I went back and forth between Gaiman’s novels, wondering about which one I should read first (I say “first” because I had no doubt this will be only the first in a line of Neil Gaiman books to be read), and after finally placing Anansi Boys back on the shelf, I took American Gods home.

About the story:

The old gods are still alive and the new gods are not happy about it. There’s a war coming and they are preparing for battle. All of them.
On parole from prison and on his way home to attend his wife’s funeral, Shadow meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday who offers him a job. Being alternately thrust into the heart of the preparations for war and told to hide in a small town, Shadow meets some interesting people and takes an even more interesting journey across America.

As I am a big fan of books involving gods and other mythological creatures, this book appealed to me from the start. Add to that a few interesting characters some unexpected plot twists and I was all set to enjoy the adventure. However, in the last 150 pages or so I was anxious to get some answers as the story seemed to drag on too long. And I did get them.
This is one complex tale and if you expect things to move in a straight line you will be disappointed. There are quite a few meandering paths to take and many side characters to meet before the mystery can be explained. From an abundance of gods and goddesses who have the ability to shape-shift into animals, to small town people and interesting places, this was no quick read for me. My patience was tried several times to the point where I just wanted to flip ahead a few pages, but luckily I didn’t. Gaiman has the ability to construct a believable story with real-life characters, and inserting them into a plot that has just the right combination of weirdness and total normalcy. I like how even the supposedly ‘good guys’ aren’t perfect but rather a mixture of good and bad, how it was perfectly acceptable to meet a god in prison and have the dead walk again and to read about a goddess who devours men in order to survive.
There are a few references to other authors and their books: Herodotus, Stephen King and Charles Dickens come to mind. I’ll let you discover the names of their works for yourself.

Some of my favorite passages:

“So yeah, my people figured that maybe there’s something at the back of it all, a creator, a great spirit, and so we say thank you to it, because it’s always good to say thank you. But we never built churches. We didn’t need to. The land was the church. The land was the religion. The land was older and wiser than the people who walked on it. It gave us salmon and corn and buffalo and passenger pigeons. It gave us wild rice and walleye. It gave us melon and squash and turkey. And we were the children of the land, just like the porcupine and the skunk and the blue jay. “

“Still, there was a tale he had read once, long ago, as a small boy: the story of a traveler who had slipped down a cliff, with man-eating tigers above him and a lethal fall below him, who managed to stop his fall halfway down the side of the cliff, holding on for dear life. There was a clump of strawberries beside him, and certain death above him and below. What should he do? went the question. And the reply was, Eat the strawberries.”

The edition of the book I got has a peculiarity (typing error perhaps?) which goes on pretty much to the end of the story, so many sentences look like this:

“Aprecise voice, fussy and exact, was speaking to him, in his dream, but he could see no one.“
“Aman in a dark suit….”
“Atired white woman stared at him from behind the counter.”

Somebody loved their A’s so much they didn’t want them to feel lonely.

*Read in October 2011

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13 Responses to American Gods – Neil Gaiman

  1. Vishy says:

    Wonderful review, Delia! I haven’t read much of Gaiman and this looks like a really interesting book. It is interesting to think of how the old gods have survived and are living in today’s world and how there is a shadowy war going on which we don’t even know about. Your review made me remember a short story called ‘Gods in Exile’ by Heinrich Heine, which I read recently, and which is on a similar topic. I loved all the quotes you have posted – the strawberry one made me smile 🙂 I loved your observation about someone loving their A’s so much that they didn’t want them to feel lonely.

    • Delia says:

      It was quite interesting to discover who the new gods were and it makes sense but I didn’t want to give away too many spoilers, it’s much more fun to make people wonder instead of telling them everything that happens in the book. I have also been looking for a good mythology book but there are so many out there I never know what to choose.
      I’ll keep an eye out for “Gods in Exile”. I think I’m just getting warmed up on the god theme.
      I knew you would remember the strawberries. 🙂
      This “typo” was actually intriguing, it gave the book personality.

  2. M-----l says:

    I haven’t read anything by Neil Gaiman, but I’ve had Neverwhere on my list for a long time. It came highly recommended. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  3. JoV says:

    Whoa Delia, your blog is a gem! Your Header picture is so awesome! … I’m going to put you on my google feed. Thanks for visiting my blog.

    I haven’t read this one. On contrary, I don’t take on stories about Gods and myths very quickly but I’m willing to try.

    Have a great time in Thailand. It’s one of my favourite tourist destination and I have visited Bangkok (twice), Chiang Mai, Hatyai and Koh Samui and it never disappoints. Oh Don’t forget to visit the neighbouring countries as well while you are there. Vietnam and Cambodia recommended (hint, hint!).

    • Delia says:

      Thanks, you are too kind. 🙂
      I love books and movies about gods, legends, myths and symbols. I can’t get enough of them!

      Glad to see you like Thailand, next time you come by for a visit give me a sign. 😉
      I’ve been to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and it was a truly unique experience. I love visiting places with ruins and old temples and this one was amazing. Vietnam is on my list, I’ve heard it’s a beautiful country and has some amazing scenery (among other things).

  4. Jenners says:

    I so want to try this author but was struggling to try and figure out which book to try first as well. I’m not sure if this is the best choice based on your review … but maybe it is if I know I’ll need a little patience!

    • Delia says:

      Yes, patience is the word. If you don’t mind waiting a while for things to reveal themselves then you should give it a go. Or maybe you’ll be able to figure things out a lot sooner than I did.
      Perhaps I should have picked a shorter novel. That’s what I did with Murakami and it worked out very well.

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