American Gods is an investigation into religion, consumerism and how a society forms and supports ever changing systems of belief. It tackles huge ideas from the perspective of Shadow a coin trick performing ex-con seemingly plucked from obscurity. As the novel progresses he also reveals himself to be caring, sensitive and perceptive, he’s decidedly well-read despite his hulking exterior. Wednesday, who first appears to be a silver-tongued con-man recruits him to be his driver and errand boy, quickly embroiling Shadow in his efforts to unite the old gods against the new.
The novel is embroidered with elaborate description, including old myths, legends and snapshots that drag us backwards and forwards through time. We are taken on mini escapes into the lives on the Old Gods and witness some disturbing scenes. Most notably featuring Bilquis a twisted version of the Queen of Sheba who, having become a prostitute, engages in an interesting sexual encounter within the first few chapters of the book.
Everything is beautifully written and captivating, despite a slow-moving plot which takes us on an exploration as appose to an adventure. Having never read any Neil Gaiman my understanding was that the story revolved around a battle between the old gods and the new. I thought there would be plenty of action, there isn’t, instead it delivers a narrative that ignites a curiosity for mythology and enables us to explore the way in which modern society stifles imagination.
It also includes other notable characters such as Mad Sweeney a Irish leprechaun wanderer that Shadow is introduced to in a bar. Mr Nancy a half spider trickster god who uses his powers of deception to pull Shadow out of a tricky situation. My favourite is Czernobog, who keeps telling Shadow he’s going to smash his head in with a hammer in a completely casual fashion at every encounter.
Overall, if you love inventive interpretations of myth, sprawling narratives and bizarre interludes this is a fantastic book. The sheer volume of ideas that are touched on within this text could have completely derailed it. Neil Gaiman’s masterful handling of the subject has turned this novel into a modern classic. That being said, it’s definitely not for everyone, there are some dragging parts to overcome and some aspects are challenging reading due to being completely bizarre and seemingly unrelated to the overall narrative. The TV series is out now via Amazon and should make for some interesting viewing.
Have you read it or watched the TV series? How do they compare?
Do you love it or did you find it too wordy and weird?
I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments!