peteg's blog

Neil Gaiman: American Gods

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I was talking to mrak and Ang about Douglas Adams's The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, and had this foist on me. The premise is quite similar, with the Norse pantheon running the show; I guess their tales parallel the Jewish conspiracy theories of men. Gaiman spends more time pan pantheon, although the Greeks are MIA. Fundamentally he dodges the essential problem that not all gods are comparable; for instance the Christian God is necessarily absent, as is Allah, for they are omniscient, etc. Following Gaiman's ontology I guess many comic book heroes would be modern gods, or that there should have been a god of superheroes. Anyway, whatever.

There is too much tourist stuff in this book of the form "I went here and saw that." The preamble makes it difficult to take any of it seriously as Gaiman asserts that separating location fact and fiction would take significant effort. Do I really care about all those decaying roadside attractions? Moreover the problem with this type of universe is that nothing is predictable, so there is little possibility of tension. I just wanted to know how it ended, and ultimately the plot just evaporated. The metaphysics is mostly stock, and motivations are a bit opaque at times.

Gaiman writes some occasionally sparkly prose, but is indulgently flabby about it. The book ambles around directionlessly quite often, and narrative is certainly subordinated to observation. Again, William Gibson does this too but his writing is taut, so it doesn't get in the way of character and plot.

Laura is a deus ex machina, and all the characters are American everypeople: hustlers, shysters, trailer trash, urban professionals, and so forth. Shadow is a bit of an everyman, the big dumb bloke who's not dumb but not alive, and has a generally indistinct personality. Gaiman's fixation on coin tricks is not easily or well rendered in prose, and I didn't bother to visualise them as I didn't know the terminology.

I note Gaiman's nod to Brunner's sociologist from Stand on Zanzibar by naming the Lakeside cop Chad Mulligan.

The heists, well, I saw them on The Real Hustle. OK, the book predates the TV show, but their presentation has more flair (or is it sexiness?) than Gaiman's. While the referentialism tickles the neurons with that "aha, I get it, I'm smart" feeling that feels like thinking, to me it cheapens the whole enterprise, and just makes me sure that there's more out there than in here, that with all that I do get there's a lot more that I'm missing. It is a pointless, lazy approach to writing.

I am surprised this book got such huge recommendations and so many prizes.