Wednesday, May 16, 2012

#Review: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Title: Good Omens
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

The first time I read Good Omens, I must have been in my early teens and picked up the dog-eared, cracked-spine copy that was at the public library in Hout Bay. I still remember reading it in my mother’s car while she went to check in on my grandparents at the retirement village. The book had been borrowed so often pages were falling out, and the library had tried to tape the volume together.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to trot this novel out again now that more than 15 years have passed since I last read it, and I must admit I have mixed feelings about the work in hindsight. First off, let me say that I absolutely adore Pratchett and Gaiman. I devoured piles of Discworld novels as a teen and Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels had a lasting impact on me. But something about Good Omens is just “off” for lack of better description.

The main gripe I have is that the story suffers from “too much awesome”. Pratchett and Gaiman shoehorned in too many elements which hampered the build-up of tension and resulted in an ending that went out with a whimper rather than a bang. This is the danger of having a large cast of characters and a multiple viewpoints written in an omniscient style. And it’s exhausting keeping up with everyone, with scenes that flitter hither and thither.

A big problem with this story, I feel, is the humour, which is possibly the reason why I failed to finish Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, and also can only stomach Pratchett’s writing in isolated instances. Much like Monty Python and his ilk, I can only tolerate this sort of humour in small servings, and I always want it tempered by presenting it within a stronger narrative. I found the constant dry commentary exhausting after about a third of the novel and, consequently, struggled to finish reading all the way to the end. So yes, a large part of my feelings of meh-ness toward this novel lies with me. I don’t think I am quite the reader for this novel.

Granted, I did find the authors’ characterisations amusing, but to get back to that comment of “too much awesome”… The novel loses steam early on so much so that I think the only way to really enjoy it is to read it in short bursts over a few weeks instead of an intense sitting.

Good Omens is a stab at some of the classic 1980s horror, with a big nod to works such as The Omen. If you enjoyed that story, then you’ll probably pick up a few of the hints tossed into Good Omens. The only character I felt an inkling of affection for was Adam and Dog, and feel if the story had been centred more around his doings and his gang, it might’ve had more impact. Some readers have complained that the story’s “too preachy” and that it descends into moral nihilism. Maybe it’s just that I tend toward nihilism at times that this didn’t bother me too much. It’s quite clear that far more people love this story than hate it, and it must be remembered that the reader is the final arbiter.

At the end of the day, Good Omens gets bogged down by its large cast of characters, multiple story arcs and by its reliance on its own cleverness. I did appreciate the skits, which are Pythonesque at times, yet this is not the best offering from either author. I can see where they come from, and probably conceived this novel out of a conversation where a number of “what ifs” were dropped. Granted, this is still a fun, light-hearted read which takes a stab at contemporary society and, for that alone, is worth reading. At no point did I feel like flinging the book across the room either, but I’ll echo what a lot of other readers have said. If you want to see Gaiman or Pratchett at their best, rather look to staple fare such as the Discworld novels, the Sandman graphic novels and American Gods.

1 comment:

  1. I always got very impatient with the Discworld books since I don't like having to wade through humourous asides (or footnotes) to find the plot, and I did think Gaiman did a reasonable job of reining Pratchett in. I love the book but I'd probably rather read Gaiman on his own!