Neil Gaiman: American Gods

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POSTED: January 5, 2016

I found this on the bookshelf of the house where we were staying in Kerala, and started it with no real preconceptions and little specific enthusiasm. I had read the Sandman comics but had never read any of Gaiman’s novels before. I mention all this to indicate that I was not necessarily predisposed to like it.

Paperback cover

Like it I did though. While it would not be true to say that I was hooked from the first sentence, I was definitely hooked by somewhere in the middle of the second chapter; when it was clear that the first chapter was going to lead somewhere unpredictable.

The story changes focus or tone several times and at one point I thought, wrongly, that it was going to turn out to be a picaresque adventure in which things happen, our hero learns from them or not, and they recede into the past never to be mentioned again. I could not have been more wrong. By the end absolutely everything that happens, and every location in which it happens, has been woven into a single design, and everything makes a contextual sense.

The book examines the idea that gods – all gods – are memes which we create and then gain lives of their own which lasts until they are completely forgotten. This applies to the new gods, the gods of credit and media, as it does to the old gods, the gods of weather and sacrifices. Of course ideas shift and change, mutate and clone themselves and as Odin says at the end of the book, “He was me, yes. But I am not him.”

In a twist that might perhaps please Wendell Berry the book posits at behind all of these gods lies something much more powerful still: the land. In other words, in a quiet and subtle way, the book also deals with the question of where memes come from.

American Gods is well worth the time it takes to read. I suggest that you seek it out rather than waiting for it to turn up on the shelves of a strange house.