American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsI’m just back from a two-week holiday where the weather washed away all the planned long walks and I spent much of the time in front of a log fire, glass in hand, making serious inroads into my tbr list.

I began with ‘American Gods’. It’s a big book (650+ pages) and I’d had a couple of false starts with it, reading enough to realise that to do the book justice I needed to set aside a big slice of time. I was right: given that time I found the book truly remarkable.

One of the things I like about Gaiman’s work is that, as an Englishman who has lived in the States for years, he can set books in America in a way that I find convincingly authentic while remaining accessible – unlike many American writers whose work I’m finding increasingly impenetrable as American-English moves relentlessly away from British-English.

The basic idea behind this book is that gods exist as long as someone believes in them and that while they exist they will do anything to maintain their power. The book is fairly slow paced, but I found that the succession of strange events drew me in until I was desperate for an explanation. The occasional diversion into the history of migration into North America was interesting, building understanding of the diversity of gods. I found it an ambitious, intriguing and challenging book.

What I found particularly interesting is that the later edition I read contained additional passages that the author had persuaded the publishers to insert. It says a lot for the author’s conviction in his theme that he wanted to return to an already highly-successful book and make what he considered to be enhancements. This edition is the one with the cover image shown. You may have to shop around to find it. At the time of writing, this edition wasn’t listed on Amazon, but other editions are. American Gods

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneI read the hardback edition and the first thing that struck me when I’d finished it is that it’s short – much shorter than a glance at the hardback might suggest. There are 248 numbered pages, but 4 carry the acknowledgements and, by starting each new chapter on a recto, 11 blank pages are introduced. The space between lines is abnormally large, as are the margins all around the text. New chapters start one-third of the way down a page. I have no objection to reading novellas, but I’m not happy when a publisher uses every trick in the book to make a novella look like a novel in an attempt to justify a £16.99 hardback cover price.

None of which is anything to do with the author and does him no favours; which is unfortunate as he seems to me to have done his job very well. Initially the narrator is an adult who slips away from a family funeral to seek out the scene of half-remembered strange happenings in his childhood. Narration then switches to the seven-year-old boy that he once was. The prose flows beautifully. Locations are described vividly and characterisation is sharp. Sibling and parent-child relationships are captured with painful accuracy.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, although afterwards I couldn’t have told anyone the basic message. Is Gaiman just saying that children have powerful imaginations and are capable of escaping into wonderful imaginary worlds; or, as in other books, is he telling us of different worlds that exist below the surface of this one? I’ve no idea what the answer is, but it was a fun read and, at the time of writing, the Kindle edition is available on Amazon for only 99p. At that price it is unmissable. The Ocean at the End of the Lane