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Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING,
said Death, JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING 
EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.
I can hold nothing against or up to either Neil Gaiman or the late Terry Pratchett. In respect of their fans and their work, my problems are mine and mine alone. In general, both are of the highest standard. In context however, I can only judge Pratchett’s early work, such as TruckersThe Carpet People (currently reading to my four-and-nine-tenths year old who is loving it) and The Light Fantastic etc. (all of which I enjoyed as a very young teenager). Post-Carpe Jugulum I have read exactly diddly squat, and the stage plays and TV adaptations have passed me by without so much as a flicker of interest. Whereas Gaiman continues to intrigue, chipping away at my natural scepticism with his charm and wit and style and great children’s books, and I did enjoy Stardust the movie, for the most part because of Robert De Niro, and also in spite of Ricky Gervais. Of course, were they to collaborate on a novel (not De Niro and Gervais; that would be one to avoid), then I would expect the world to end in a joyful bacchanalia of exuberance.

But sadly it didn’t.

Because in 1991 they came up with this little beauty. I must have read it shortly before or soon after going to university in 1996. I remember it on my bookshelves at student digs no. 4 or 5, gathering a fluffy grey mildew. In retrospect, I may have skimmed it as there were parts of which I clearly had no recollection, but again, it might just have been that there are levels and levels of fun stuff to discover depending on the state of mind of the reader. Now, as a more settled, confident reader of fiction, I am a tad more observant and reflective (I would hope it was so or God help me) and so those hidden depths are less hidden, and I am more able to appreciate everything past the rather silly British jokes that somehow become hilarious when Terry Pratchett writes them. Tempering the puns is Gaiman’s ‘dark steely style’ as the cover reports, a more subtle, macabre humour. And together, they have wrought what is a thoroughly entertaining story of the Apocalypse averted.

We have two angels, one fallen (or, rather one who sauntered vaguely downwards) and one tottering, both of whom have been on the Earth serving faithfully their respective masters, more or less, for a few thousand years. Having been the only constant in each other’s lives, they have developed a useful if unofficial partnership, a partnership which is threatened by the news that the Antichrist has just been born in a small rural village inside the M25, where suspiciously, the weather is always perfect, for the time of year, and developments like new housing estates and road improvements never seem to make it past the planning stage. Now aged eleven, it’s time for him to bring about the Apocalypse, and riding to his aid are the four Horsemen, updated for the modern age. In the meantime, the last remaining witch-finders and one witch (a good one) are on the case to avert disaster, separately, whilst a set of obtuse prophecies from 17th century witch Agnes Nutter predicts their every move.

It all sounds deadly serious, I know, but it’s not, as you would expect of this collaboration, and the broad cast of supporting characters combine to add sky, clouds and trees to the hay wain of Aziraphale and Crowley. Every character is apt to say something hilarious, in context, at any moment, and the writing is dry, witty, absurd and sharply intelligent at all times. In fact, I find it hard to find a significant weakness to either the story line or the delivery. This pleases me no end, as traditionally I’m a bit of a git. I am very happy to have returned a copy of Good Omens to the shelves of my new library where it can now grow yellow and dog-eared until I next feel the urge to pick it up again. Probably in another twenty years or so.

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