Neil Gaiman is one of the writers I admire most, at least of the ones who still have a pulse. The problem is: I haven’t actually read that much of him. The Sandman, granted, The Graveyard Book, and I’ve seen the tv-series Neverwhere and the movies Coraline and Stardust. I liked them all. Now, I’ve tried my first novel, American Gods. From what I gather it’s celebrated. I don’t get it.
It tells the story of Shadow, a man who is released from prison after the death of his wife, and finds himself in the service of Odin in a growing conflict between the old gods and the new. There are various other deities, some antropomorphic manifestations, some violence, some love, and then… the end.
Gaimans knowledge of mythologies from around the world, and his imaginary stitching together of them into a narrative whole is impressive. But then what? What is this book actually about? The technique of putting old gods and the like in a modern setting is almost identical with what Gaiman did in The Sandman. Why do it again? (And why a sequel to this novel?) Maybe I’m simply losing it, as many Gaiman-fans undoubtedly will inform me, but this isn’t interesting, this isn’t fun (I think, though my incapability of appreciating humour in literature is by now almost notorious), this isn’t even artistically impressive. It’s like a road-book, following Shadows travels from place to place, leading up the the non-climactic climax. Somewhere I read that it’s a mix between americana, fantasy and mythology. The mythology is mainly that impressive transforming of ancient deities into modern day creatures. The fantasy is of course the presence of mythological entities and supernatural incidents. The americana is the traveling, the road book, which is the main part of the novel. But I never cared for americana. And all that driving just prolongs the novel towards that unsatisfying end.
Stilistically it is hardly a marvel either. A few really capturing and inspiring sentences, a few awkward and annoying repetitions, but mostly just words. No, this is simply not my cup of tea. Maybe if I ever read it again, which I find highly unlikely. It’s not a bad book, it’s still miles better than most modern fantasy, but it’s not a brilliant book either. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but when you expect to be swept away on a wave of literary greatness, finding yourself in grey old US of A running low on narrative gas is simply a disappointment.