American Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
American Gods is one of those books everyone seems to be reading. Be it because they’re a Neil Gaiman fan or due to the television series, everyone seems to have something to say about it. As I’m a ridiculously weak person when it comes to bookish peer pressure, I gave in and brought the book. I’ve been meaning to pick up a Neil Gaiman book for quite some time anyway, so I was effectively killing two birds with one stone.
I went into this story with too many expectations and no expectations at all. I went in with notions of a literary masterpiece. Almost everyone has something positive to say about this book. There are rave reviews, awards have been piled atop the book, and it just seems to be one of those books (you know, the type you simply must read because of x and y reasons). At the same time, I had no idea what to expect story wise. I created my own ideas based upon the title and blurb – powerful Gods and all-out war – but I honestly had no expectations whatsoever in regards to what kind of story I would be receiving.
Truthfully, my feelings towards American Gods are extremely mixed. There were times where I was really enjoying the story and then there were other times where I had no idea what was going on. In fact, I spent a large percentage of the story clueless as to what I was reading. For the first couple of hundred pages, if someone asked me what I was reading I would reply with ‘a psychedelic wet dream’. Actually, I would say that throughout the entire story. There were many great elements but it was always (what I came to refer to as) the psychedelic wet dream elements that stood out the most.
I mean, really, who would have thought powerful Gods would be so caught up with anatomy. When I think of Gods, I do not think of time spent in the bedroom or the kinds of antics I imagine teenage boys get up to in locker rooms. It simply jarred with my image of what Gods are. It made for an interesting and unique take on Gods, but it was not at all what I had imagined they would be. Even upon finishing the book, I cannot say whether or not I liked this take on the omnipresent creatures. As I said, it was different, but it did not match with the images in my mind.
Another thing that jarred with my preconceptions was the way in which the story played out in regards to the war. I know there is much more to war than the battlefield elements. There are politics to consider, the effect had on those at home, and many other behind the scene elements that are missed out in most stories. However, I feel as though this one didn’t really hit upon many of the real elements. You knew a war was building, and yet everything seemed to take part in the background. It is probably some meta way of storytelling – the whole ‘it is taking place where humans will not see’ – and yet I wanted to view more. It was almost as though multiple stories were fighting to take control of the tale – you had the war and you also had all the drama occurring in Shadow’s life. Whilst you were engaged in some elements, you were never as fully engaged as you could have been.
I realise I’m seeming to be somewhat overly negative about this one, but it wasn’t all bad. As I said, there were some elements that I really enjoyed. The book had moments where it was a lot of fun, yet my expectations seemed to have been set much higher than what the book delivered.
Although I was never entirely sure about the way the Gods were portrayed, I really enjoyed the way they were introduced to us. We had the old Gods – those we can easily think of, the real religions of the world – and we have the modern Gods – of the things we love, aspects of the modern world that are central to everyday life. These two opposing types of worship made for such an interesting tale. They develop slowly, giving us more and more information as the story progressed.
Moreover, the multiple layers of the story ensured you were never quite one hundred percent sure about what would come next. Some elements were quite predictable, but it was nice to watch how everything linked together. You always had some kind of question lingering in the background, you were constantly wondering about the significance of little things.
It was a wonderfully complicated tale, and I’m glad I gave it a read. Not only can I finally jump into all those American God conversations that are occurring but I also enjoyed the book. Although I did have fun, it wasn’t all I had hoped it would be. I’ll certainly be giving Neil Gaiman another try, but I had wanted something more from this one – I just feel as though there was something missing (even now I could not tell you what, all I know is that I never experienced the mind blowing phenomenon everyone else seemed to).
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