Sunday, April 16, 2017

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (10th Anniversary edition--Author's Preferred Text)

(Book Review)

Why I Read This Book
I was looking for some light reading to get me through the 20+ hours flight back to Vietnam.  So I headed to the fantasy section of the bookstore.
When I saw this book on the shelves, I snatched it up, because people had been recommending this book to me for years.
I had limited experience with Neil Gaiman before.  (I read a book he co-authored, but it's difficult to tell how much of the flavor of that book was him, and how much was his co-author).
As I walked up to the cash-register, the clerk commented how much he loved this book.  "Neil Gaiman's one of my favorite authors," he said.  "His writing style is great.  It's just like having someone sitting next to you telling you the story."

The Review
So, let me start by adding my own affirmation to the common consent--Neil Gaiman can write well.  He writes very readable prose that keeps you turning the pages.

And, he's got a great imagination.  Whatever else you may say about this book, it certainly is imaginative.

Let the reader be warned, however, that this is one of those books that takes its sweet time.
It's a book that values creating an atmosphere over a fast-moving-plot.  A lot of time is spent describing places, people, and scenes.  For example the author spends pages several chapters describing life in one small town in Wisconsin.

Some of this is, no doubt, because I bought the 10th Anniversary Edition, which contains an additional 12,000 words that Neil Gaiman's editors had originally cut out for the first edition.
I suspect that Neil Gaiman's editors had been right the first time.  (Although not knowing which 12,000 words the editors had cut out, I can't say with certainty.  But there's definitely a lot of fat that could use trimming in this book.)

Even the original book edition apparently had a reputation for its love of description.  To quote from the Guardian review of the original mass-market paperback (LINK HERE):

There's something raw about American Gods, too. It's a polished piece of writing, no doubt about that, but it has that simultaneous urgency and sprawl of a writer finding their feet. Gaiman's latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is a perfectly-formed parcel of tight writing and economic plotting; American Gods spills over the edges of the page as Gaiman gives himself an almost runaway-truck freedom to pile anything and everything that tickles or interests him into the novel.
The good news though is that Neil Gaiman can pull it off.  He writes well enough that he can take a lot of digressions, and still keep the reader with him.
Also, there is tons of detail and conversation packed into this book.
Some of the little details casually dropped in conversation will turn out to be important to the book's plot later.  90% of it will not.  But then that's a good way for the author to hide his foreshadowing and his red-herrings--just cram so much detail into the book that the reader doesn't even know what's important and what's not.

It's a good book, but I'm not entirely sure this worked as a good airplane read.  I was looking for something a bit more fast-paced to help distract me from how miserable I was on a 20 hour flight.

Instead I got the opposite of fast-paced.  And by the end of that 20 hour flight, all those dream sequences in the novel were beginning to irritate me.

So...let the reader be warned ahead of time: a long sprawling novel, slow-paced lots of descriptions, lots of dream sequences.

Now, to the positives:
There are a lot of colorful characters in this book.  Neil Gaiman has mined through some of the more interesting stories in world mythology so that you don't have to.
I had already known about Thor and Odin, of course, but from this book I got my introduction to Chernobog (W), Wisakedjak (W), and the Zorya sisters (W) from this book.
As well as all sorts of interesting little tidbits of information.  (Did you know that Paul Bunyan is not so much an authentic American folk legend, but rather something created by a New York advertising agency around the turn of the century?)

There's a lot of fascinating stuff.

And it's well written.

So I'd give it my recommendation.  Just be warned about the slow pace beforehand.

Connections With Other Books I've Read
* At one point, Stranger in a Strange Land is mentioned as a book that is in one of the charater's car.

Video Review
Video review here and  embedded below:

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky talking about Wikileaks and Julian Assange


Whisky Prajer said...

Oof -- you picked up the larded version, didn't you? Man, I struggled to get through the original edition. A plane ride would have helped, to be sure. But Gaiman is one of those writers whose popularity defies my comprehension. King I can understand, even if he's finally "not my jam." Gaiman ... it's like he's got no skin in the game. He's dazzled by his own plots and flights of fancy, but there's no investment in his characters' emotional lives (such as they are). Always the clinical remove of someone who, for the most part, sees things more clearly than the reader. I appreciated the surprise at the conclusion of American Gods, but closed the book determined to give this "nuthin' up muh sleeves" writer a wide berth from here on out.

Whisky Prajer said...

In hindsight, do you wish you'd gone with Neal Stephenson?

Joel Swagman said...

On Gaiman: although I enjoyed this book on the whole, I definitely feel your frustration with it.

As for Neal Stephenson: I don't know. I tried Quicksilver and gave up on it. I'd like to return to the Baroque trilogy one day, and read the whole thing, but these are not small books, and to bring the whole trilogy with me would have taken up more room in my luggage than I had.

Besides, I got the impression from your review that Neal Stephenson also sometimes overloads the reader with details.

Whisky Prajer said...

Yeah, but I'll take Stephenson's details over Gaiman's, just 'cos they're so peculiar and historical. A novel like AG is loaded with the sort of detail that, if you've ever done a road trip in the USA, is familiar. Stephenson brings in the completely unfamiliar. An example from Quicksilver: it never occurred to me that ships just out of port could spend the better part of two weeks just bobbing within sight of shore, waiting for a trade-wind. That kind of detail sticks to the ribs.

Joel Swagman said...

Interesting. I do regret not having stuck with Stephenson.
At some point I'd like to return to the Baroque trilogy and read the whole thing. I guess I just need to be in the right state to conquer those huge books.