You know you’ve read a great book when you close it for the last time and feel like a distant member of your family has passed on, or you sit in your favourite chair, place, restaurant and stare at a wall wishing you’d written that.
For me, Neil Gaiman’s weighty wander through wintery Wisconsin, and other parts of The States, fits in with my pantheon of ‘greats’ that includes Evgene Zamyatin’s We; Mikhial Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita; Angela Carter’s Passion of New Eve. The simple qualification for entry to this exalted list is a need to leave me wanting more, grieving at the end as the final words pass before my eyes, and, the essential part, wishing I’d written it. The attribute of ‘greatness’, for me, is not whether it encourages me to rifle a book from cover-to-cover in a single sitting, but rather how it makes me feel during and after reading.
One Sunday afternoon while sitting in my local Sunday Lunch café, a gentleman I’d never spoken to before was moved by my reading of American Gods to walk in off the street and interrupt my perusal of Gaiman’s world. You see, my food had arrived and waited for me on the table. I was letting cool before eating and this guy assumed I’d forgotten my meal in favour of the book. This was some measure of truth in that. I found in American Gods a duality of response: I could neither put the book down, nor read for too long – such were the images and inspirations conjured in my imagination.
I was quite surprised to learn Gaiman had written American Gods in 2001, although the cultural clues were always there. Still, that time before ‘everyone’ got a mobile phone and we lost our youth to that digital hand-held device makes for a glorious realm of conflict and opportunity: the old gods, and ways of life and community, being swept aside by gods of new media, and ways of life and community.
This latter point Gaiman, for me, didn’t delve into in depth. It was just there, happening, stirring into action and building for war. Only, there was a twist to it. That twist was alluded to throughout the the novel with Shadow’s prison-learned skill of coin slights and the deceptions he learns of, takes part in, through Wednesday. However, Gaiman displayed the richness of his imagination and creative abilities in imagining a world and a country forged under the heat of migration, immigration and slavery. I think, possibly, The U.S. has a unique place in this world because of its history. Could Gaiman’s homeland challenge that? I think I could, but it lacks the geographical expanse in which to wander (Shadow leaves the winter of Lakeside and travels to the spring of Kentucky in a chapter.), and how much of the true Briton remains on these shores?
The answer to that question is probably immaterial in the face of the colour of the narrative and vibrant story-telling offered to the reader in American Gods and it does, for me, remain an inspiration.
Ps, I see a TV series has been created based on the novel. I stress the word ‘based’. It has not been my pleasure to view this offering from Media (I have only read reviews on http://io9.gizmodo.com/american-gods-fantastic-first-season-ends-with-shock-a-1796197953) but I wonder if there won’t be a mass murder of the not so innocent? Who knows? Not me. It’ll be some minor media deity and a TV executive. Perhaps.
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