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American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.

Let's get this right straight off the bat: Neil Gaiman is a very, very good writer, and American Gods is one of his most ambitious and sprawling. I have more criticisms than good things to say about this novel, but I suspect a lot of my criticism comes from my frustration with the fact that it never quite came together in the way I wanted it to. Really the best novel to compare it to is Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which uses fantasy and magic to talk about history and culture and politics, and is also gargantuan at about 700 pages. Neil Gaiman's American Gods doesn't quite measure up to that standard - and reading the author's preferred version might have been a mistake, actually, there are about 12,000 words floating around there that weren't in the original. (But that's not even the size of a big bang, so maybe the fact that I found some of this novel kind of tortuous can't be put down to those extra 12,000 words alone.)

Things I liked: the scenes where Shadow was in prison, the idea of backstage, some of Gaiman's passages, damn does that man know how to construct good sentences --

'Hey, Sweeney,' said Shadow, breathless, 'why are we fighting?'

'For the joy of it,' said Sweeney, sober now, or at least, no longer visibly drunk. 'For the sheer unholy fucken delight of it. Can't you feel the joy in your own veins, rising like the sap in the springtime?' His lip was bleeding. So was Shadow's knuckle.

... so apparently HBO is going to adapt American Gods into a series, and I wonder which lucky shmuck gets to deliver that speech. I vote this guy.

So basically: it wasn't that I didn't think it was very, very good; my main jibe with this was that it could have been a lot better, and I am an easy sell when it comes to this stuff. (See: my utter and unwavering devotion to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.) I did like the classic Gaiman twist where the entire premise is revealed to be a con, in much the same way Spider's creation is the entire key to unraveling the mystery in Anansi Boys. I also liked the moral equivalence attained at last in the battle between the good gods and bad gods, although Gaiman really should have put a bit more effort into making the bad guys a little more seductive. 'Mr Wood', really? I also really liked Kali & the Queen of Sheba & Eostre, but the way the eroticism of this was written did make me kind of uneasy at bits.

Most uncharitable and unconstructive remark for last: I was reading the Goodreads reviews and one of them in particular made me laugh out loud: "For example, if he's trying to say that Americans care more about emerging technologies than religion, it's irrelevant to drive that point home by saying, "You know, no one worships Horus and Bast and the Norse pantheon anymore." No shit? Americans, and much of the rest of the world today, aren't polytheistic? Wow! That doesn't mean they aren't religious. I mean damn, if you have to skirt around the world's three major religions for your point to make sense, then maybe you don't have a point at all." HAHAHA TRUTH.
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July 2014

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