Thursday, 3 May 2018

My struggle with American Gods

I've read quite a bit of Neil Gaiman's work now, including some of his Sandman comics, Neverwhere, which was a delight, and The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, which I would also recommend. I've even seen the movie Stardust, which is excellent viewing with the kids on a wet Sunday afternoon. While I was reading Neverwhere on the train, I was approached by a fabulously beautiful American girl who recommended that if I liked Neverwhere, I should really take a look at American Gods. Maybe it was her chat up line?

Still, I took her at her word, and I've been working my way through American Gods, but I've been finding it a bit of a slog to be honest. The premise is that gods are real, and the more people who follow them or worship them, the more powerful and influential they are. One of the main protagonists is Mr Wednesday who is, in fact, Odin, as should be pretty obvious from early in the book. He is on a quest to rally the old gods of America - i.e. the deities of both the Native Americans and successive waves of immigrants - to wage war against the new gods, like the Internet and popular music.

On the surface of it, it is quite a good idea. Odin/Wednesday represents the American concept of Odin, brought to North America by the Vikings. But there are older gods than Wednesday, including the Egyptian gods Anubis and Ibis.

My problem with American Gods is that it is a bit of a road trip book, with the characters meandering their way across early 2000s America, which Gaiman is obviously fascinated with, having various conversations and encounters with different gods. That's pretty much it. Yes, there is lots of talk about sacrifice, and betrayal and so forth, and a sub-plot involving the main hero's dead wife, brought back from the dead with a leprechaun's lucky coin.

But it's not really as very good book. I've almost finished it now, and it somehow feels like a progression of images and experiences. Shadow, the main character, is largely adrift, being buffeted hither and yon by other forces, including being manipulated by his dead wife, but is frequently completely ineffectual. He is there to experience all this, and it is never really obvious what his role is, what his value is to Wednesday.

In desperation, I've started watching the TV series by the same name. This is interesting in that it starts by sticking closely to the book in the first couple of episodes before heading off in new directions, possibly because Bryan Fuller and Michael Green found the original plot too dire - and who can blame them? Gaiman was executive producer on the project, and is known for being a bit prickly about how his work is transferred to the silver screen - Neverwhere was born out of his issues with the original screen play.

American Gods the TV series is only eight episodes, and I'm five in so far. It starts looking at some of the other characters in more detail, like Laura, Shadow's wife, who is ably played by Emily Browning, and the leprechaun Mad Sweeney played by Pablo Schreiber. If anything, it is better than the book, as it ditches Gaiman's meandering panoply in favour of some much more focused story telling. Gillian Anderson is simply awesome as the god/goddess Media, and demonstrates once again her uncanny ability to switch into a flawless English accent, the legacy of spending some of her childhood in the UK.

I have persevered with American Gods, and have almost finished it, but I really don't rate it as Gaiman's finest hour. The TV series is better, I have to say, and hopefully funding will be available to continue it, as I can't believe they can cover the epic plot adequately in eight episodes.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, the book isn't great. It's more or less the same idea as one of his Sandman stories, but not done as well. I haven't tried the TV version yet.