American Gods (2001) by Neil Gaiman

“American Gods” is ostensibly a fantasy book, but doesn’t really neatly conform to that genre. It feels much more like a picaresque, a road trip, an ambling trip through both physical destinations and concepts and stories Neil Gaiman finds fascinating. I was very, very taken by it.

I loved how episodic it felt, not only the excellent “Coming to America” interludes where Gaiman exercised his great skill in writing short stories about the relation between different gods and America, but also the protagonist Shadow’s journeys alongside enigmatic Mr. Wednesday. There’s fairly little in the way of plot here, and the worldbuilding was intuitive instead of labyrinthine, which were both great reliefs to me. I loved the relaxed, meandering vibe, as the novel explored fascinating questions about theology and immigration rather than pummelling me with plot point after plot point.

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Gaiman’s style of writing feels to me more like a dialogue between author and reader rather than a barrage of information, and I found myself more and more comfortable with the book as I read further and further and realised he was never going to morph the book into something too structured or writerly. It’s a journey, an exploration, not a mountain of tired plotting, worldbuilding, and characterisation to be funnelled into a very marketable genre style. Shadow doesn’t react “realistically” to many of the divine events around him because the novel is supremely disinterested in having to justify itself. It’s a story about storytelling, and contorting that into some form where its fictional conceit required “justification” would undermine that. I really did love how Gaiman approached it. I give it four coins, and a con.

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