If it were possible to give a book an extra star for pure brilliance, I’d give it to American Gods. On so many levels, it works – as a modern day fable of American life, as a book which asks some fundamental questions about who we are and why, or rather how, we believe, and ultimately as a slippery eel of a story that messes expertly with the readers mind.
Gaiman himself admits in his preface that this novel is ‘big and odd and meandering.’ And in this respect, I found myself drawing parallels with works from the Irish literary canon with their subversive, wandering narratives. Which is kind of odd, because this is a book about America. Or is it?
Yes, it throws into relief many people’s take on the current state of America, with its mosaic of cultural identities gradually morphing into a bad lands drained of the old values, dependent upon the modern ‘gods’ of commerce, technology and media. However – spoiler alert #1 – Gaiman’s point is rather that nostalgia for a spiritually self-contained past may prove just as deluded.
The book offers – spoiler alert #2 – one of the best double bluffs I’ve ever come across in a work of fiction. Without overloading the reader with minutiae, it constructs a detailed and very immediate sense of modern day America. And Gaiman seamlessly integrates myth and reality to create a kind of hyper-reality, an American which is at once strange and familiar.
There is no sense of tedious moralising either. Gaiman’s narrative unfolds with perfect pacing, panache and heaps of dark, mordant wit. An absolute must!