★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This is a bad land for Gods.
If there is one thing that can force you back into reading it is a long voyage. Or as some people like to call it – Cruising. There only thing better than reading on a beach, is reading anywhere else. Not a beach fan. Not even sightly. But back to the American Gods.
What an absolute treasure. From the moment I started reading it I remembered why I usually don’t stop reading. I actually felt my brain restarting. You can just tell Neil Gaiman is super duper smart when he throws ‘pontificating’ into a sentence like it was born to be there. This week it has been my goal to say ‘pontificating’ once a day. The only problem is, I have a maximum of two people in my life this week so seven days later, they aren’t as impressed as they were when I said it the first time. Never matter. I will remember it until the day I die now. I now also say “my back teeth are afloat” if ever I need to pee really badly. Because some oddball in the book said it and I laughed out loud. Yes sir, that is exactly the way to describe a full bladder.
American Gods as written by a Englishman – oh you cheeky lad Gaiman – is, in true Gaiman style, full of mythology, and excellent characters, all in a darkly humours wash. Fresh out of prison, Shadow is informed of his wifes death in a car accident. On his way home to his suddenly empty life he meets Wednesday – who is a person and is nothing like the day of the week Wednesday. If anything – he would be a Friday night with a full moon, or a Sunday night with a public holiday on Monday. He’s sort of annoying and sort of fun, and mostly mysterious and dodgy. He doesn’t really grow on you. You feel the same way about him throughout the entire book, even when he does good things and bad things. He’s just one of those characters you judge from the beginning and you end up feeling pretty confident about your judgement skills by the end of your book.
Anyway Shadow and Wednesday go on a journey – much like my cruise – full of storms, weird people, and lots of alcohol. They do some magical stuff, visit some gods who are struggling in the modern world now that we don’t sacrifice goats and virgins to them anymore. For real – these Gods aren’t that nice.
One of my favourite moments (quotes) in the book, was when Shadow said – “Call no man happy, until he is dead”. I thought that was fantastically dark and nodded appreciatively at the time. But oh – it is much more than that. At the end of the book it is explained what that actually means. Not that life is terrible and death is the best part about it, as I originally thought – But that you can’t judge a man’s life until you can see the whole of it. Nobody can determine how someone’s life was, halfway through it! Oh the brilliance.
In a chapter called ‘Coming to America’ (p. 345) was where I had to put thebook down and think a bit. Gaiman stops narrating the story for a moment and gets all preachy – but in the best possible way.
“There are stories that are true, in which each individual’s tale is unique and tragic, and the worst of the tragedy is that we have heard it before, and we cannot allow ourselves to feel it too deeply. We build a shell around it like an oyster dealing with a painful particle of grit, coating it with smooth pearl layers in order to cope. This is how we walk and talk and function, day in, day out, immune to other’s pain and loss. If it were to touch us it would cripple us; but for the most part, it does not touch us. We cannot allow it to.”
Gaiman uses the starving children in Africa as an example. We know that they are starving, but to try and properly acknowledge the grief we have to focus on an individual and his daily struggles. But then we are not doing his sister justice who is also struggling, we cannot multiply that empathy by a million, for all the other million people who are starving. We cannot compute large scale to an individual’s loss and pain. Don’t think about it too long though. Someone will no doubt try and get your attention while you experiment trying to compute that much struggle. And they will not be able to get to you.
I know I say it a lot. But damn. What an excellent book. I’ve read a few of his novels – and even more of his short stories, but this one is most definitely his crowning achievement. Well done sir. Five Stars.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ps. Sorry that it took me so long to read this Bec.