Rambling, chaotic, wild, confused – and wondrous
This republished version of Neil Gaiman’s novel from 2001 is like a director’s cut of a movie. Originally differently edited, Gaiman here releases the book he originally wrote, more or less.
It is one of those shambling, rambling, picaresque Don Quixote type tall tales – except the landscape is remarkably dark, gothic, terrifying and bloody, as well as quirky, inventive and playful.
A mysterious man, Shadow, whose rather mythic identity will eventually be revealed is released from his prison sentence early. And from then on, things go abysmally wrong. The symbolically named Shadow, who indeed, always seems to be in someone’s, stumbles into a complex ancient battleground of mankind’s yearning dreams, of the stories we told ourselves of gods and heroes, past and present, of what we worshipped and adored.
Religions are by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you – even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business or marriage thrives, prospers and triumphs over all opposition
Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world
Gaiman peoples America with the various gods brought from various parts of the globe, by those who landed on her shores, from history and from prehistory. Bellicose Norse Gods rub shoulders with matriarchal pagans from Africa, Egyptian animal headed gods accompany leprechauns and pixies. Savage humour and horrific zombies party together. Orpheus makes a different kind of journey into a different kind of Hades, and Eurydice is far from a pretty sight.
Ancient gods like these have been forgotten, but linger on, and modern America worships new myths, creates new creatures of power – mass media, technology – paler but no less violent gods, and as demanding of human sacrifice.
My people figured that maybe there’s something at the back of it all, a creator, a great spirit, and so we say thank you to it, because its always good to say thank you. But we never built churches. We didn’t need to. The land was the church. The land was the religion. The land was older and wiser than the people who walked on it.
I’m not absolutely certain (not having read the original) whether the ‘writer’s cut’ improves the no doubt rather less rambling version of 10 years ago. There were times, sure, when i felt – oh just get ON with the narrative and stop going round and round, and then another revelation would strike.
Flabby it may be at times, not, I think, anywhere near as sure and crafted as Gaiman’s latest,The Ocean at the End of the Lane but still, here is a writer who is populist, hugely inventive and with such brilliant imagination and generosity in the telling of tales, that occasional overindulgence must be accepted
Oh, and this one is most definitely NOT a children’s book – some of the sex and violence is very dark indeed