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Old 1st Sep 2003, 10:30   #1
pandop
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Default Book 3: AMERICAN GODS - discussion

Looks like I am first then - havent quite finished my re-read, but I wont let that stop me (should finish it otday anyway)

Well I loved it as much as I did first time round, and was surprised how much of the detail I had forgotten - and how much overlap there was with his other work (I am a huge fan)

I dont want to say too much more at the moment, as I am looking forward to hearing what people who have not read it (or any neil before) have to say about the book

well - except to name drop :wink: the first time I discussed this in a reading group, it was in the Neil Gaiman forun on compuserve, and I must say it is very disconcerting to be discussing a book when the author keeps popping in and commenting too.....

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Old 1st Sep 2003, 10:33   #2
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I imagine it would be, yes!

I'm only about 70 pages from the end, so should be able to chip in later today, tomorrow, etc.

Don't worry about spoilers and so on, I'll only return once it's done and dusted.
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Old 1st Sep 2003, 15:00   #3
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Just as a point of interest I add this from the Amazon site. A selection of very effusive reviews culminates in this:

Quote:

Why the restraints of 5 stars?, 11 September, 2001
Reviewer: <flock_of_seagulls@hotmail.com> from Queensland, Australia.

Undeniably, this novel is the best work of fiction written since a certain John Ronald Ruel Tolkien sat down and wrote The Lord of the Rings. Neil Gaiman's American Gods is an epic odyssey of soul-searching that we, the reader, have never been privileged to reading before, or have read anything remotely similar to it, before. It is an extremely well-developed opus of fiction following from his masterful Sandman graphic novels, and his novels Good Omens, Neverwhere and Stardust. This is easily Gaiman's best work, and his protagonist Shadow is created with so much immense charisma that one can actually visualize what type of person he'd be in reality, what category he'd fall in: in brief, he's certainly not the stereotypic, so-called "big dumb guy". Gaiman writes in an unequivocally poetic way, almost, and turns some hugely memorable and humorous catchphrases. He writes novels which feature unencountered motifs; novels which are hugely original, and often controversially surreal. His books are mythic and masterful. Shadow is released after three hard years in prison to discover that his wife Laura has died in adulterous circumstances with his best friend, in a car collision. Perplexed and distanced, Shadow stumbles about America's road-stops under the newly-instigated employ of eccentric Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a retired god, let alone King of America and refugee from a distant war. American Gods then makes a departure from conventional storytelling; every so often a tale of fantasy juxtaposes itself between Shadow and Wednesday's exploits; narratives retelling the truth of Mr Wednesday's identity and his people. Soon Shadow realizes what the whimsical Wednesday has declared is factual; that his boss is Odin; that a metaphysical storm is breaching. All characters Gaiman draws are flesh and blood, embodiment of true people. On his expansive journey, Shadow will encounter bizarre sexual acts, mythological America, forgotten gods, thunderbirds, dwarves, djinn, Faerie, zombies, leprechauns, the personified beliefs of a careless nation, and the destiny that awaits him. This is the year's best novel; there can be no mistake, but more than that, this is the novel that forty-six years has been waiting for. It is engrossing, it is fiercely original, it holds that unforgettable gaimanesque wit, it draws the reader into an otherworld of wonderment, it is hugely quirky, winsome yet dark, and has as much influence from Terry Pratchett as from J.R.R. Tolkien. American Gods is as good as 2001 will get. If you were wise, you'd buy this odyssey for personal pleasure, and then wonder whether or not this novel was biographical. Unmistakably, this is nothing but a Masterwork.
Blimey! You reckon he liked it then?!
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Old 1st Sep 2003, 15:15   #4
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Okay, I'll jump in and said I enjoyed it. I read it straight through on one day. My first impression was how distant and uninvolved it was. I really didn't empathise with Shadow throughout the book until he did his Baldur-impression on the tree. As soon as Wednesday turned up, I got the idea (I had read Diana Wynne-Jones Eight Days of Luke many times before this) but found it slightly frustrating to manouevre through the story without any glossary/guide to some of the characters - we are not all as au fait with our mythology as Gaiman is. My greatest problem was with the gathering for the battle/war and the total anti-climax that it turned into. Shadow's speech was a complete waste and should have been far more inciteful/dramatic. Everyone seemed to shuffle away at the end. I was more than glad that Laura died properly and would have been more satisfied if Shadow had died too, despite the mythos demanding that he stay alive. I was genuinelty surprised that being as well-read as he seemed to be, Shadow didn't try and work out his own role in the drama long before it came upon him. When he was in the library, it wouldn't have taken too much to research Odin and Baldur etc. An excellent read in all, but let down by the defunct battle and characters that were sometimes colourless.
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Old 1st Sep 2003, 15:46   #5
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I am so grateful to have been brought up on books with title along the lines of:

Folktales from around the world
Myths and Legends from around the world


Although having said that I did have trouble with some of them

To an extent, all of Gaiman's writing can be quite distant, but I rarely have emphasised with a character less than I did with Shadow - but I think that is part of why I like this book so much, as the distance makes it unusual

I think some of my favourite bits were the coming to America interludes, as Christopher Columbus was *not* first .... (speaking as an early medievalist and classisist)

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Old 1st Sep 2003, 18:29   #6
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I was okay with a lot of the myth references, being a classicist and medieval historian too with a light background in world religions, but I thought it was unreasonable to introduce such a spread pf characters and expect people to connect with them as familiar icons. In that sense each reader would come and naturally affix to their own particular familiar 'god' but it was still important plot-wise and as engagers with the text, that we understood more of their natures - the three-fold goddesses in the flat, the Eastern European gods, some of the Eastern gods. I thought it was a fantastic idea well done nethertheless. I just didn't get the 'St. Crispin's Day' speech I was expecting from Shadow. I expected his enlightenment to change him just a little more.
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Old 1st Sep 2003, 19:45   #7
Clem Feeney
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I chose this book as a long term fan of Neil Gaiman. It's a book I had on my to-read list for a while.

I must confess to being very disapointed with the book. I found it overlong, with far to many characters and overall the material in the book was very much a re-tread of "Brief Lives", one of the Sandman series. Shadow was a very two dimensional hero, and it was quite hard to connect with him. Personally I think Neil Gaiman should stick to shorter narratives. Some of the mini-stories were excellent - one of the things Gaiman does really well (though the first one made me laugh out loud - do they have a fantasy category for the bad-sex awards?).

I must confess I was tempted to give up half way through, around the time of the 'Lake Woebegon' interlude, but my guilt at having asked you all to read it made me carry on.
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Old 2nd Sep 2003, 10:43   #8
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I disagree - I dont see think that the book was a re-tread of Breif Lives, there is some overlap certainly, but then again old gods are a common theme throught Sandman.

I liked this book a lot when I read it originally, and found that on a re-read I do admit to there being a sense of anti-climax about it (although after all of those on the Neil Gaiman forum pestered him relentlessly he did concede that there might be a sequel one day - which could solve some of that issue)

I think more could have been made of Shadow's experiences with the world tree, and of the whole two man con-trick (I must admit I liked this aspect a lot) - and I do like the twist at the end, wherre it is revelead that the American Gods are aspects of, but not the same as, the old world gods.

I also thought more could have been made of Hinzelmann's meddling - why? It was interesting that all the Gods appeared to be able to sacrifice to themselves as a way of maintaing survival.

Smug moment - I knew about Eostre before I read American Gods!

Hazel
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Old 2nd Sep 2003, 20:53   #9
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Well, I failed with this one - or it failed me. I got to page 134 'accidently' left it behind when I went home for the weekend, picked up The God of Small Things instead and never went back to it.
I couldn't find anything interesting about the characters, knew it was going to be one of those plots where everything is revealed slowly until you get a revelation - but I just wanted to scream 'Oh get on with it'.
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Old 3rd Sep 2003, 12:33   #10
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With such a big book it's almost impossible to know where to begin. So I'll start at page one:

Quote:
Shadow had done three years in prison…
OK, so immediately, had I not known (from the title, the blurb, the hype and the simple self-awareness that comes with being a player in the whole reading 'thang') that what we were dealing with here was a fantasy-type novel, I'd imagine this to be some trashy crime housebrick of a read. Down-at-heel drifter falls out of clink and straight into complex plot involving lowlifes, hot women, guns and cash. The sort of thing Jim Thompson did with aplomb and everyone else has been trying to copy for years.

I mean, 'Shadow', what's that? Shadow? My initial incredulity at that first line stayed with me for a long, long time and it's not until p261 (in my hardback version) that a half-hearted explanation comes along. It might appear a strange thing to get hung up on, but if you're going to call your main character something cool like Shadow, you better come up with something damned good with which to back it up and "I'd just find adults and follow them around" didn’t do it for me. In my world that'd make your nickname Odd Boy, not Shadow. Shadow? No, there had to be more to it than that, not to mention all the strange things (a dead wife being the least of his worries) that happen to him, and before too long I'm afraid that any shocks and surprises concerning our man's past or destiny had been dissipated by putting the big fella in pigeon hole marked 'big revelation coming up'.

Let's break away from him for a second.

The basic premise of the story, that the immigrants who came to America brought their gods with them is, I guess, an appealing one. Why not? You could imagine, say, Aldiss or Bradbury or Michael Coney getting some mileage out of a short story on that subject. But a 500 page hardback? 600+ softback? I began to wonder what it was Gaiman was hiding. Why all the detail, why the endless referencing of the scared ancients, why the tortuous details about bloody coin tricks? I'll admit I didn't get what it was, but I sensed a con coming along. I knew we'd have the rug pulled from under at some point. I spent most of the book waiting impatiently for the twist, muttering 'get on with it' at regular intervals.

It doesn't help when you're losing faith in something, for that faith to be stretched, but several times we're asked to suspend our disbelief ever higher: there're the gods of course, then we have zombies, talking ravens (Gaiman has clearly read MacDonald's Lilith), talking dogs, talking fire, talking bowls of chilli con carne. OK, so I made the last one up. Where were we? Oh, yes: a supposed clandestine agency; a murder mystery on Walton's Mountain; a protagonist who knows Herodotus, picks up council minutes as a casual read, gets access to a library and then never bothers to do a moment's research on his boss who happens to be the Norse god Odin (?!). Oh, and he dies and comes back to life too, did I not mention that? By the time we hit the revelatory segments, I was rolling my eyes to the heavens [sic] almost every five minutes.

It seems, all of it, completely aimless. It did me no good at all having zero sympathy or empathy for Shadow (Shadow?!). I simply didn't care about his plight, or Wednesday's, even. I couldn't drum up enthusiasm for the nearly dead gods, or the fully dead Laura, or anyone. Apart from Sam, who at least referenced the Onion, so is fairly likeable in that regard. Everyone else could go to hell in a handbasket as for as I was concerned. Oh, and hey, they do. Kinda.

As has been mentioned already, the battle/climax is woeful. You build up to something for what seems like an eternity (ho ho) and then say 'actually …nah'? It’s incredibly lazy, startlingly so. At the height of it he comes up with:

Quote:
The paradigms were shifting. He could feel it. The old world, a world of infinite vastness and illimitable resources and future was being confronted by something else – a web of energy, of opinions, of gulfs.
What? Sorry, what? It means nothing. Like Stephen Fry in Room 101, I have to confess that I do not have the requisite reservoir of splenetic juices to summon up just why I despise the misuse of the word 'energy' so very much. The ending, the denouements of the separate story threads, the pat conclusions, they're all so frustrating, and they're all run through with this dreadfully woolly language. Gaiman actually puts together a workable and efficient set of action sequences in the first half of the book (the plane journey where he meets Wednesday, the deaths on the train car, etc) but then falls down by talking about bloody 'energy' and simply finding Laura 'in a side cavern' (and riding giant birds, how throwaway and blink-and-you'll-miss-it is that? Eh? Come again?) This is draft 1 stuff, isn’t it?

I understand that Gaiman used to write comics. Well, it seems he still does, he just forgot to include any pictures in this one.

Did any aspects of the book hold my attention? Maybe, and like I said, the initial premise is an interesting one, but the forgotten gods in the end are presented to us so quick-fire and one dimensionally that it's impossible to take them seriously at all. Like, there was a minotaur in there for a whole sentence, or am I mistaken? It's tiresome and dreary and ultimately Gaiman came across to this reader as someone who read some really great books about gods and felt he just had to get 'em all in.

My last word is reserved for the missing kids sub-plot. Hinzelmann didn't have a neon arrow pointing at him with IT’S THIS GUY writ large upon it, but he may as well have done. Outrageously transparent. Please tell me no-one was taken in by that?
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