Tuesday, December 8, 2009

5. Good Omens by Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman

Good Omens is a collaboration between fantasy writers Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet. It's a comedy about the end of the world where anthropomorphic demons, angels, and horsemen of the apocalypse, along with witches, witch-finders, and satanic nuns prepare for the coming of the Anti-Christ and Armageddon. (The catch being that everyone on Earth rather likes it there and doesn't want things to end in a cataclysmic battle-to-end-all-battles and so steps are taken, intentionally and unintentionally, to subvert the master plan and save the world.) If you've seen recent theologically-based comedy adventure stories like Dogma or Little Nicky you know some of what to expect from the characters in Good Omens. The angels are wry and cynical, the demons are sympathetic and likeable, the leadership of both heaven and hell is questionably overzealous and humanity is stuck in the middle, a healthy balance between the two extremes.

As I am writing this I can actually feel the pull towards writing a negative and critical review. I didn't think it was a terrible book. I kind of liked it and I can see why other people would, too. I really like Gaiman (well, I really liked the Sandman comics, I never got into his novels). Maybe this just isn't my style. Comic-fantasy stuff like Douglas Adams has never really clicked with me despite the frequent recommendations from friends. Or maybe it is because I started reading Homeland by Sam Lipsyte while I was still trying to finish Good Omens. I frequently have two books going at once but usually one is a more serious literary novel and the other is a more lighthearted popular work. In this case I had two contemporary humor novels going at the same time and Lipsyte was a much better read. Then again, maybe it's because this is the kind of book I would have abandoned halfway through but now, because of Cannonball read, I feel compelled to finish everything I start so I can keep up my stats.

I know a lot of people who pride themselves on never giving up on a book or always finishing what they start. Personally, I don't get it. This is actually something I do a lot, I jump into a novel for 100 pages or so to get a feel for the writing and the story, then lose interest and jump to something else. I figure I can't possibly read everything I want to in one lifetime so I might as well hook up with Rushdi, Borges, or Garcia-Marquez for a couple days to at least get a feel for them. I promise I'll call, but who knows? Besides, I take enjoyment in the little things when I read, the descriptions and ideas that can be communicated in a page or two. The bite-size morsels that sometimes make you have to lower the book for a minute and think , or jump up and pace around the room. I can usually find enough of those in the first half of the book while momentum is high and the pages are turning easy. Yes, there is something to be said for sticking with a book for the duration and letting character and narrative arcs, themes, and plots run their course- I'm not advocating skipping the back 60% of novels- it's just that, given that you can only read so much in a life time, well, it's better to have read and abandoned than never to have read at all.

But I didn't abandon Good Omens, I stuck it out to the end. At times it dragged for me. Maybe this was a result of the collaborative writing experiment by Pratchet and Gaiman. The story was full of clever bits and indulgent digressions as Gaiman and Pratchet tried to out-cute each other in the writing process. It jumped around constantly to new characters and situations but seemed to lack any discipline or cohesion in the storytelling (I realize everything fits together in the end and therefore everything is included for a reason, but it still seems like sloppy storytelling with an emphasis on incidental character descriptions and asides instead of telling a tight, well-paced and compelling story.) The tone of the writing which was amusing at first really started to wear on me by the end and it felt like things were taking forever to come to a conclusion which I found somewhat unsatisfying. If it sounds like something that appeals to you it probably will. As for me, I won't be concerning myself with Discworld or American Gods anytime soon, but I am interested to read The Graveyard book and Gaiman's recent capstone to the Batman series "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?"


  1. I'm not a fan of Pratchett, he just doesn't do anything for me at all, but I do like Gaiman. Well, some. American Gods has so far been the best of his I've read, and I would recommend it. I don't think I'll ever bother with this one though.

    I used to be like that with novels - not wanting to give up on them, but I've changed my mind a bit recently. If I'm not enjoying it after so long there's no reason to think it'll be worth it in the end.

  2. A Heartwarming and Adventurous Tale of Friendship and Fortune
    Beyond the Golden Sunset and by the Crystal Sea by William Dunigan is the adventurous tale of a serendipitous meeting between two boys and how their lives are forever changed
    2009-02-17, 230 views, By Eloquent Books


  3. For me the best part of this book was the footnotes. I thought they were hilarious. The story itself did get convoluted and strange toward the end, but I've read enough Gaiman and heard enough about Pratchett to let it by.

    I also read this when I went to Scotland, so the entire narrative has a Scottish accent for me. That could be another reason I liked it.

    Have you read Gaiman's Neverwhere? That book is FANTASTIC; while it is out-there, with a million little characters and twists and turns like this one, it's also pretty accessible.