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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

'Then he grinned, like a fox eating
shit from a barbed wire fence.'
God knows, you don't want me going on and on about my peccadilloes when it comes to the writing and groupies of Neil Gaiman*, but I do need to get something off my chest. In some respects, it's a criticism, but then Mr Gaiman had abso-fucking-lutely nothing at all to do with it. My disappointment, for it is such, stems from the fact that this is the first book by Neil Gaiman that I ever read, and because I chose it to start me off, has com-fucking-pletely ruined for me everything else he's written, and has actually put me off reading his other stuff. I can't help but admit I enjoyed watching Stardust the movie, and I did read with much relish the Jonathan Carroll-esque Ocean At The End Of The Lane after I found it in a charity shop for 99p. Oh, and his excellent children's picture book The Wolves in The Walls. I have found myself nodding knowingly as I pass the Gs on bookshelves but never pausing to pick up another Gaiman, because I'm afraid it won't be as good as this. 

Because this is GOOD. I trust the shouty lettering gives the lie to this understatement. Having read it first in the nineties, I wandered the literary landscape with a dream of it in my mind, gently guiding me to writers like Jim Dodge and Jonathan Carroll, from whom I inherited new fantasies, until the original dream began to fade, much like Shadow's revelations, learned during his nine-day vigil on the tree of life, and I found myself wondering what did happen in the end, just who Mr World was that Shadow recognised his voice, and what was it again that gave me the creeps about the town of Lakeside. 

And now I remember. 

It's a chunk of paperback at over 600 pages, but it never feels like a long book, so tightly packed and expertly corralled is the content, writhing about over itself like a sack of anacondas, all power, threat and mystery under the burlap. Shadow is a big, dumb guy with enough smarts to make him dangerous, the patsy of ancient ideas made flesh by the worship of millennia. A road trip, a folk story, a lament for the passing of the old ways and the inescapable encroachment of the new, it's also a slice of wintry Americana, filled with vivid portrayals of small town life and the personifications of deities old and new. There are images of suffering, of rebirth, heart-aching passages of loss and betrayal, humour and wit aplenty, and through it all an over-riding sense that here is a writer who understands the land about which he writes, who knows its peoples and traditions, its peccadilloes and peculiarities, and celebrates it all, good and bad. 

It also has the rare distinction of being a book I'll read again in another ten years, without doubt.

If you're a reader, and I mean someone who reads, not one of those who consumes the latest pulp bulk-bought by supermarkets and filling cardboard bins by the check-outs, you'll know about Neil Gaiman already. But if you've any friends who haven't cottoned-on, please do send them my way. Or better yet, buy them this book. But be prepared for them to have a similar reaction to mine.

*Of course, if you do you can read all about it over here.

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