By Neil Gaiman
Published August 2017 (Del Rey)
I started off 2018 with a big book that has been sitting on my shelf for way too long. American Gods won the 2002 Hugo for Best Novel and was partly chosen because of my goal of reading more Hugo winners, but also because I’ve just been wanting to read it for ages. American Gods is a book about the old gods of mythology locked in conflict with new gods, such as Media, and Technology, and Government Conspiracies. Just for the spectacle of gods and creatures of all the different mythologies of Earth interacting, this book is worth the read.
God fights are not all this book is about though. It is an exploration of how we interact with myths, and how our beliefs shape not just our lives, but vice versa. It is a love-letter to America: it’s endless roads, strange tourist traps, and the traditions that have been bought to the land over thousands of years. Thankfully not just traditions that have come from afar. The Native American Wisakedjak appears, along with Native American mortal characters, and a chapter imagining the first great migration from Siberia to Alaska. I’ve never been to the USA, though American culture is ever-present in media and pop-culture. I found this story to be an interesting look at a different side of America.
American Gods is a slow, meandering book where a lot happens. The only part that was impossible to put down was towards the end, but I still enjoyed the rest of the book. Gaimen creates a world that is perfect for exploring slowly, with a lot of lovable characters to meet and fun places to see. It helps that the humour fit in perfectly. The main character Shadow disappointed me at first, as he seemed passive and unemotional, but it soon became apparent that that was his way of coping with his wife’s death and betrayal. Shadow’s journey through his grief and the wonders of meeting so many gods was in the end a joy to read about.
Whilst American Gods is almost universally acclaimed and highly awarded, it is a very weird book. Early on, there is a sex scene that ends with a man getting swallowed completely by a vagina. Gainman referenced this scene as a sort of ‘weirdness gate’: if you can deal with the vagina swallowing, nothing else in the book will be too much for you. If it is too much for you, then well… you’re not going to encounter anything worse than that, so may as well dive in.
My copy of American Gods included a novella set in the same universe called The Monarch of the Glen. I loved the universe and intend to read this novella, but for now I need a break for this world. As I said before, American Gods is a long book. Long, but a joy to read.