American Gods – Neil Gaiman

Thanks to Amazon this title is now all over the place. Finally I got round to reading it, because I wanted to know the book before I start watching the series. Now I read the book and I probably won’t be watching the series…

When I was a child and I run out of fairy tales to read my mother in a fit of genius gave me Greek mythology to read and said it’s almost like fairy tales. I devoured it and since then read it multiple times in several versions. The during my studies I had to become a bit more familiar with Egyptian mythology and somewhere along the line I got to know bits and bobs of the Norse mythology, though I am not an expert by any means. All in all I do know my mythologies at least to an average level expected from someone who studied humanities. This is where I think the problem lies, but let me go back to the beginning.

I think by now almost everyone knows what the book is about, so let me be brief: gods can only survive if people believe in them, but in secularized America people start turning away form the old gods and embrace the new ones, of tv, of money, of communication. This inevitable leads to a war, as the old order tries to protect itself and the new grows more and more arrogant and resentful of the past. Our main character, Shadow Moon, is pulled into this conflict in quite early stages, when all gods try to get their allies in line. He has just been released from prison a day early due to his wife’s death. On the plane he meets Mr Wednesday and I’ll leave you to it here.

Like The Ocean at the End of the Lane it was an ok read, there was nothing jarring in the prose. But the book didn’t completely click with me, I got through half of it quite quickly and then I had to push myself to continue reading, because all the mysteries seemed pretty obvious by then. This is where I come back to my average experience with mythologies, this book is aimed at people who know little or nothing, otherwise all the clues become not only obvious but almost insulting in their simplicity. Because of that I ended up going through almost 600 pages only to have all my suspicions confirmed, which on some level probably could be satisfying (it is good for your ego to feel soooo smart), but on another is just simply a bit boring. I found the clues heavy handed, Shadow’s emotional inertia annoying and the ending unsatisfactory, I think there are more books in the series, but I’ll pass.

Mythologies are fascinating, gods having all the human flaws, only more, being full of contradictions, reflecting our lives like in a distorting mirror to make us understand more about our condition, there is so much to it. For me Gaiman’s book flattened all of it to a statement of ‘gods live on human faith and it is diminishing, so they fight for their survival’. There was so much more to explore, the opposition of the old and the new was such a great opportunity, the way the old gods arrived to America, the way new gods were created, all of this is fascinating to think about. Gaiman could have created a whole new world, instead he placed one-dimensional gods in our world, added a relatively simple mystery and decided this is all that a reader can take in mentally. Unfortunately for me it fell flat on both the intellectual and entertainment level (I kept an open mind, expecting that the book may not be very deep, but at least hoping for good fun). This is one reason why I won’t be watching the series, another is there were a few pretty graphic violent scenes in the book and I read they have been expanded in the series and I have no wish of seeing them, being a bit squeamish like that.

One redeeming word though, if you’re not familiar with the mythologies you may enjoy this book, it is not inherently bad, just not one for me.

As I mentioned at the beginning Norse mythology is probably my weakest point, so I will give Mr Gaiman another chance and buy his Norse Mythology hoping that there finally he’ll do justice to the complex world of gods.

This is book #5 of my 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 746books.
See my list as it grows here.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @ vkphotospace

20-books 2017

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One thought on “American Gods – Neil Gaiman

  1. Oh, what a shame. Having read the Eddas etc. I know quite a lot about Norse mythology so this might really annoy me (although I liked the Avengers films enough and they really muck around with Loki and Thor!). I aim to read his Norse Gods book, though.

    Liked by 1 person

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