Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Good Omens
By Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Published in: 1990

Synopsis (via Goodreads): there was a bit of a mix-up when the Antichrist was born, due in part to the machinations of Crowley, who did not so much fall as saunter downwards, and in part to the mysterious ways as manifested in the form of a part-time rare book dealer, an angel named Aziraphale. Like top agents everywhere, they've long had more in common with each other than the sides they represent, or the conflict they are nominally engaged in. The only person who knows how it will all end is Agnes Nutter, a witch whose prophecies all come true, if one can only manage to decipher them. 

OK, so that synopsis is pretty broad. I think a better summation comes from one of the authors himself, Mr Neil Gaiman, who said that Good Omens is "a funny book about the end of the world and how we're all going to die".  Of course, there's a little more to it than that but essentially you get the idea. Adam Young, leader of the Them and resident of Lower Tadfield is the antichrist. However, because of a mix-up in the hospital (three babies are always more complicated than two) Adam, the real antichrist, went home with ordinary parents, while an ordinary child went home to be watched and, shall we say, encouraged, by various members of Hell's eternal fan club. Fast forward 11 years and the apocalypse is due to occur within days, but as the demon Crowley realises, the antichrist isn't the actual antichrist, and along with his angel pal Aziraphale, realise that perhaps the apocalypse isn't all it's cracked up to be and maybe, just maybe, they could find a way to stop it from happening.

Anyway! I've heard people rave about this book for a very, very long time but it's just remained one of those books that was put back on the shelf when my arms were too full of books and I had to cut back. However, I was in the city and forgot to bring a book in with me and I wanted something to read over lunch so I ducked in to the bookstore and picked up a copy thinking it's about time I actually sat down and got an idea what all the fuss was about. Well, I've got an idea now! This book is fantastic, I really, really enjoyed reading it and I couldn't help thinking all the way through, "yep, can totally see how Gaiman ended up writing American Gods!"

For those of you who have read American Gods but not Good Omens, they're very similar. Well, no they're not, but kind of (ha!). In the way that American Gods took well-known (and not so well-known) characters from mythology, Good Omen takes characters from Christianity, and much of the premise, and delivers them in a fresh, funny and engaging way. Famine (one of the Horsemen of the apocalypse) is making a living selling "diet" books to people who desperately want to be thin and beautiful, War is a beautiful war correspondent who seems to arrive before the war even begins, and Pestilence has retired and been replaced by Pollution. They also ride motorbikes now and wear leather jackets with "Hell's Angels" embroidered on the back.

The book doesn't make fun of or try to diminish Christianity, in fact, if anything it's parodying the films like The Omen which were such hits a couple of decades ago. That being said, it did make some rather poignant comments about religion and the absurdity of trying to box people as either good or bad, and of promoting this fantastic afterlife rather than encouraging people to give a damn about what they're doing to the planet. One of my favourite scenes takes place during the preliminary apocalypse craziness when a space ship crashes on the road in front of one the minor characters, Witchfinder Newton Pulsifer, and out jumps two aliens who berate Newt in the same fashion a cop would berate a speeding driver

>Morning, sir or madam or neuter" the thing said.
This your planet, is it?
Well Yes, I suppose so," he said.
The toad stared thoughtfully at the skyline.
"Had it long have we sir?" it said.
"Er. Not personally. I mean as a species, about half a million years. I think."
The Alien exchanged glances with its colleague.
"Been letting the old acid rain build up, haven't we, sir?" it said. "Been letting outselves go a bit with the old hydrocarbons, perhaps?"
"I'm sorry?"
"Could you tell me your planet's albedo, sir?" said the toad, still staring levelly at the horizon as though it was doing something interesting.
"Er. No."
"Well, I'm sorry to have to tell you, sir, that your polar icecraps are below regulation size for a planet of this category, sir"

And it continues on for a while after that. I thought the integration of social commentary into the story was very neatly done and with a great deal of humour so it was never over the top or didactic, but it means after you come to the last page and close the back cover you're left with a little more than just a funny and interesting story. In fact, considering the book is over 20 years old, the comments about the environment are oh-so spot on for the way things are going right now. The only time it felt a little thick was in the climax, where it just got a little speechy and preachy and I probably would have been good with a couple of pages less.

However, overall, it impressed me immensely and I'm so glad I finally caved and bought a copy! I was also really amazed at the flawless way the two authors melded their work together, this is my first Terry Pratchett book also (at least as far as I can recall), but I've read a lot of Gaiman and I didn't feel like I was reading Gaiman, and then reading someone else, and then reading Gaiman again. Whether their authorial voices are very similar I don't know (although I'm definitely going to be kicking off into Pratchett's world of sci-fi/fantasy very soon!) but I never felt a disconnection or a separation in the text. It seems like they either worked very hard to achieve this, or they're simply such similar minds that it simply flowed beautifully between them.

So, definitely a good book to get me back into reading after my brief break and definitely a good book if you enjoy Neil Gaiman and, I'm going to going out on a limb here and assume, Terry Pratchett. Also, if you liked the Kevin Smith film Dogma, I think you'll get a kick out of this decidedly English book.

My Rating: 4/5

1 comment:

  1. Great review. I read this book a few years ago and loved it. I completely forgot about the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.



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