White Swan LBC
Date: Sunday 8th of July 2012
Address: Swan Street, Leeds
* * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * *
* * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * *
* * * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * *
Shadow is a man with a past. But now he wants nothing more than to live a quiet life with his wife and stay out of trouble. Until he learns that she’s been killed in a terrible accident.
Flying home for the funeral, as a violent storm rocks the plane, a strange man in the seat next to him introduces himself. The man calls himself Mr. Wednesday, and he knows more about Shadow than is possible.
He warns Shadow that a far bigger storm is coming. And from that moment on, nothing will ever he the same…
This is a terrifically hard book to summarise – on the page or in a discussion! Even taking away the books mammoth size; we agreed that it is less a story than a mosaic of tales woven into one.
For most of us, this was an overdue read – one that we had long heard lauded to the skies by friends and online. For others, this was a return to a book first read many moons ago or during the brilliant – albeit short lived – One Book One Twitter read-a-long project.
We loved the concept of America as the natural home and graveyard for the Gods – a simple premise that allowed for a pseudo-academic discussion on atheism, new lands, evolving belief structures and the like; which was immensely gratifying.
The gods and their largely impotent lives are also very quickly established within the books – the initial chapters, littered with cameo appearances of day to day encounters that emphasize their integration within ‘our’ society while simultaneously highlighting their ‘other’ status. This otherness is demonstrated by power and a moral basis unlike anything we mere mortals could get away with. The former fertility goddess – who physically absorbed her ‘ worshipers’ during copulation – was a particular high point for many of us; it certainly sent shivers down my spine.
The use of dream sequences, whole pages of italics and the view we get behind the scenes set us in vastly differing landscapes across the book, providing avenue to introduce even more strange and odd magical creatures that couldn’t occupy the same world as ours.
Here we sidetracked for a few moment and reflected on the effective way that Gaiman creates a rich and diverse tapestry of characters, without ever coming across as overtly striving for inclusion. He creates a raft of characters, all differing genders, ages, sexual and ethnic origin – and it’s never self consciously PC. Indeed it reads just as though Gaiman is himself surrounded by a rich and diverse tapestry of humanity to work from, not restricting himself to one racial or social identity in his writing.
Thematically, this book doesn’t shy away from difficult and often emotive topics. Rather it utilized the wild and weird sense of possibility to explore themes including race, religion, identity and isolation with a fresh perspective.
Additionally, we found the varying responses of the gods to their – for the most part – dwindling worship and influence to be fascinating. That there are new gods emerging out of new technology and belief systems made perfect sense to us. As a species, humanity has demonstrated time and again a need for an external deity to worship or revere and this generation is no less vigilant. As the form and appearance of acceptable gods have also changed, we had a lovely ten minutes or so speculating on new gods, what they would look like and whether these would prove more enduring than the gods of old.
Which led to this whole other discussion about the eradication of the gods power base – given that the English language still has names for days of the week, months and so based on these ancient immortals – how dead are they really? And off we went on another tangent based on the potential re-emergence of those deities in the here and now. Seriously good giggles.
Structuring the book as a road trip was very effective, though I think we were all of us interested in Shadow’s prison years at the start of the book as well. The primary storyline was only hinted at during the initial sections of the book, which gave the author – Neil Gaiman – scope to create a detailed world; including characters with fully realised and explored back stories before divulging the ‘meat and spuds’ of the book. By the time the proper storyline kicked in, we were all of us invested and believed in the universe created.
This use of worlds within worlds is a technique that Gaiman has used before in many of his other books. We compared and contrasted Stardust and the town of Wall, a border mark between the ‘real’ world and the magical with his (so very very good, if a touch dated now) television series Neverwhere, where people fade into the shadows of London and find an underground alternative city that compares beautifully with the going behind the curtain of the world featured in this book. And that’s only looking at Gaiman. We dragged in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, Cloud Atlas, Gods behaving Badly and Tom Holt’s many works dealing with gods in unexpected places before returning to Gaiman and the closest thing this book has to a brother – Anazazi Boys. Personally, I was very glad that I had read that book first – it’s a gentler introduction to the same world and knowing the personality of a few of the peripheral characters enhanced my reading experience. For those discovering Gaiman for the first time, it was thrilling to know that there was more to read. And we read the special edition one – with the 200 million added in pages!
We also looked at the changing formats used – the discussion moving away slightly from the book for a while and resting on the author. His short stories are perfectly crafted yet utterly different to his full length novels. Here is a man with equal grasp of both mediums. A few of the geekier amongst us were also familiar with his comic book offerings and enjoyed those tremendously too! Across the room, there was a near universal desire to read more of his works with most of us happy to recommend him to certain friends and family in the future…though perhaps one of his shorter works to begin with. This book, though easy to read is huge and that can be off putting for many people. It’s also really weird, though it transpired that most of us saw that as great.
Score – 8/10
During this epic read, we were listening to the following:
Lindi Ortega – Little Red Boots
American Roadtrip – songs like Hotel California and Karma Hotel were mentioned
Paul Simons – Gracelands – particularly good for Shadow’s descriptions
If this book were a cake…
We agreed that whatever else the cake needed to be BIG. We eventually settled on a large layer cake, with each layer totally unique.
Triple chocolate slab.
Then strawberry sponge.
Followed by a layer of cheese cake.
Then something really creamy.
Then a hot fudge Sunday type of thing with nuts and sauces and oh dear gods, I’m starving now.
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