Sunday, September 27, 2009

Neil Gaiman: American Gods and Neverwhere

On loan from my sister, natch.

I read American Gods first, since I wanted the background to Anansie Boys, and because I find the whole idea of the ancient gods walking the not-so-paved-with-gold streets of the United States, desperate for somebody to worship them at least a little, very imaginative and appealing. However, let me do the negatives first. In my post about Anansie Boys I wrote specifically I believe that Gaiman might have a problem with writing novels as though they were comics - that is, with too much focus on describing a scene, you can tell as a reader that the writer has imagined a comic frame and now wishes to put this frame into words - but that he always stays on the right side of the line. Well, frankly I think he toes it a bit here. Possibly he was a bit new to the novel racket and hadn't learnt that you don't always have to be supervisual? The upshot is that the book, in my opinion, is a trifle long and I actually found myself a tad bored towards the end. However, it's entertaining and clever. He's possibly the only writer who could ever have conceived of ancient fertility/sex goddesses working as prostitutes to find worshippers. And not make it seem cheap, mind. I also like that we never get a firm grip on exactly why Shadow, our hero, ended up in prison, except that it had something to do with assault, a robbery and his wife being "left out of it". The story is that just as Shadow is set to get out of prison and go home to said wife after doing his three years, the warden summons him to tell him that she's died in a car crash. Feeling adrift, Shadow agrees to work with Mr Wednesday, whom we find out is the god Odin in his North American form, left over from the Vikings early visits. Oh, and that is another of my positives - I really like the bits where there is a story about how the gods ended up in North America, the "historical" fiction as it where. There is the story of an early Viking settlement, before Leif Eriksson. The men joyfully sacrifice the first Native American they meet in Odin's honour, and obviously get killed in retaliation. Or the first people to cross onto the continent from Asia, who sacrifice the skull of a mammoth, and how this god is gradually abandoned by the people's descendants. Or the twins, boy and girl, who are shipped over on a slaving ship, bringing a whole religion with them, a religion that the girl to her frustration watches become reduced to merely magic and witchcraft. These parts must have been thoroughly researched and show wonderful imagination, and Gaiman deserves great praise for this. I'd recommend it, definitely, on the whole. Plenty of blood, gore, maggots and sex. I don't know if you think this is good or bad.

Neverwhere is a book written after a TV series that I've never seen, but that my sister watched an episode of and says is a bit rubbish. The book might therefore be better, since there are no rubbish special effects in a book unless your mind creates them, in which case the fault is your own. But the book seems too obviously chained to its predecessor. I get the feeling that a lot is put in just because the writer doesn't want any fans to miss a favourite scene, and this includes comedy oneliners. Also, the comic book as novel thing, again, although here the problem is the TV thing. I don't really need a description of the heroines gothy-something clothes, in layers of ragged lace and velvet and what have you. More than once. Not being a Londoner I don't find it quite as oooooohhh to have the normal London echoed in a darker, magical Underworld, in which Knightsbridge is Night's Bridge and you DIE crossing it, and an angel is called Islington (incidentally, I picture the angel Islington as looking like the archangel in Lennart Hellsing's classic ABC-book). I suspect there are many jokes in these comparisons that I didn't get. But it's entertaining enough all the same, and stays on the right side of too long.

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