The Top 5: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

“Believe,” said the rumbling voice. “If you are to survive, you must believe.”

“Believe what?” asked Shadow. “What should I believe?”


Quite simply, American Gods is my favourite work of fiction. Stunning in its scope, its imagination and its execution, I could read it again and again. Gaiman has a gift for prose which picks you up and dances with you, and drops you somewhere you didn’t know existed. I started American Gods with no inkling of what I was about to read; my only previous experience of Neil Gaiman’s writing was his Sandman series of graphic novels (which are equally spectacular), and so I approached this book with a very open mind.

At the beginning of the story we meet Shadow, days away from his release from prison, ready to go back to his wife, Laura, back to his old job, back to the mundane. And then Laura dies. Killed in a car crash along with Shadow’s best friend, the friend who was to provide Shadow with honest work on the outside. Free in one sense and completely trapped in another, Shadow is bereft and alone. Lost in every sense of the word. So when he meets the enigmatic Wednesday, who offers him a job, Shadow sets off on the strangest and most revealing journey of his life.

People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.

I cannot recommend American Gods highly enough. The book is a majestic collaboration of folklore and history, of  the nature of humanity and the notion of the divine. As Shadow travels, the reader travels with him. Many different strands are woven masterfully together to create the story of a man coming to understand how he fits into a chaotic world he didn’t know he was a part of. Gaiman is a storyteller of immense power and skill, and American Gods is 600 pages of proof.

Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.

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