Wednesday, January 29, 2014
I could say that this is a book about a man who, fresh out of jail and having lost everything he held dear, chooses to start working for another man; a decision that will change his life, or at least the way he looks at the world. I could say that it is about old and new gods, and the ongoing war between them. I could say it is about the dead haunting the living, or gods preying on humans, or journeys to various parts of the United States. I suppose I could even say that it is a crime story featuring a serial killer, and it wouldn't exactly be wrong. There are a lot of smaller stories in this book that together make up a bigger story. Still, we mostly follow Shadow, the man that we meet in jail at the start of the book.
I found it quite hard to decide what to think of Shadow. He is a criminal - or at least he has made some bad decisions prior to when we first meet him - or he wouldn't be in jail. Yet, he seems to have a certain sense of what is right and wrong, and seems to strive to try and do the former by himself and those he meets. He appears to care about the well-being of the people around him, and he is certainly loyal to a fault once he has given his word. I suppose that his character could have been made more interesting and less... flat, perhaps, but for me Gaiman's way of writing him worked just fine.
The story is a dark one, with elements that clearly suggest it is meant for adults. Sometimes the language is crude, but when it is, it is because it needs to be; it is part of the setting that Gaiman is building. None of the characters come off as perfect; they all have dark sides or dark histories or other flaws. In this story, even the gods have flaws, just like they used to in the old mythologies.
What I remember really enjoying while reading American Gods, were all the little references to various old mythologies of the world, like for example Norse and Egyptian mythology; I imagine that Gaimain must have been doing quite some research to be able to put together all the various characters that are supposed to symbolize old gods or old rituals in this book. While few of them were very well-known to me - he had chosen to leave out the Greek and Roman pantheon which are the ones I know best - I could still recognize several and make good guesses about who they were supposed to be. I also liked his take on who the new gods are, and how he chose to portray them.
As mentioned before, American Gods is in a way one story made up of several stories. But I didn't feel that it was hard to follow at any point, or that anything was left unresolved; I am pretty sure I got answers to most of the riddles I encountered throughout my reading. And that feels nice; when everything falls in place and you feel you have just read a well-composed story. That's how all the Gaiman books I've read so far have made me feel, and why I am always glad to read more of them.
So basically, I would heartily recommend American Gods. I think it is a good story, and a story that has been put together really well. I have always found Gaiman's style of writing entertaining and easy to follow, so too in this book even though it is darker than the other books by him that I have read. In American Gods you get to go on a journey on several levels; not only do you get to travel to various places in the United States, but also to other places in this world and other worlds, and through time itself. And of course, if potential readers are interested in various old mythologies, that is probably just a bonus.
Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William Morrow
First published: 2001