In my quest to read books before I watch adaptations, I picked up a copy of this book when I heard it was being turned into a TV series. Unusually, this book is written by two authors and despite some of the scathing commentary inside about whether a book that has sold millions of copies can accurately be described as a cult classic, this book certainly has a dedicated following.
“Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is an urban fantasy comedy novel about an angel called Aziraphale and a demon called Crowley who each live on Earth trying to influence humanity towards good and evil respectively. However, they both really enjoy Earth and have struck up a friendship over the centuries since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. So when Crowley receives news that the Antichrist is coming to Earth to herald the end of days and the annihilation of the world and everyone in it, he and Aziraphale agree to try to prevent the child from reaching his full potential. However, a case of mistaken identity means that Heaven and Hell’s plans have gone awry and between prophecies, witch-hunters, motorcyclists of the apocalypse and four kids, the race is on to stop the end of the world.
I have read plenty of Neil Gaiman and a little of Terry Pratchett, and I think that there is no question that their work is well-known and well-loved around the world. Both authors are known for their reinterpretation of fantasy and mythological tropes, and certainly Christian-inspired fantasy with angels and demons is a popular concept in urban fantasy. I haven’t read too many books that are written by two authors, and one notable example was “Wicked!” by renowned Australian children’s authors Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman. Unlike Jennings and Gleitzman, instead of alternating chapters, Gaiman and Pratchett wrote much more collaboratively. While there are certain jokes and passages that are more reminiscent of one author’s style or another, overall their writing blended very well. This book is very much a product of its time, and I found it enjoyable and nostalgic reading about technology and cultural references in the early 1990s. I think my favourite character in the entire book was the hellhound who becomes known as Dog and whose diabolical nature is tamped down until he becomes a beloved childhood companion. Dog’s internal struggle with his own nature was probably the best and funniest piece of tension in the book.
However, at the risk of bringing the Pratchett-Gaiman fandom raining fire and brimstone down on me, I didn’t love this book. It wasn’t the uproariously funny book I was expecting, and that was not because I’m unfamiliar with quirky British humour. In fact, I thought perhaps watching the TV series would help bring the humour to life a bit but even the show, which is very true to the book, felt a bit flat. I could see what the authors were doing with young Adam and his crew of pre-teen friends, but I found their dialogue really unrealistic and, unlike Paul Jennings, neither particularly funny or compelling. While I often read books that were published some time ago and try to have a bit of patience for changing social standards, I do want to mention that there are quite a few racial stereotypes and slurs against particular races and the queer community peppered throughout this book that are very jarring. I am certain that Gaiman would not use this language today, but, for example, the scene where Aziraphale temporarily possesses an Aboriginal man was pretty cringe by today’s standards.
A bit of a let down after all the hype, so if you’re looking to read either author, this probably wouldn’t be the book I’d recommend you start with.
I have actually already read this book, and back before I stopped using the star review mechanism on Goodreads, I gave this a 3 star review. I remember not being as impressed with this book as I was with other works by the author. However, when I saw that there was a BBC radio adaptation available to listen to online, I thought I would give it another try.
“Anansi Boys” by Neil Gaiman, adapted by Dirk Maggs and directed and produced by Allegra McIlroy for BBC Radio 4 is a radio play about a young black man called Fat Charlie (voiced by Jacob Anderson) who is living a mediocre life in London when he finds out his charismatic father Mr Nancy (voiced by Lenny Henry) has died in Florida, USA. After just catching the end of the funeral, Charlie finds out that not only was his father was much more than he seemed, but that he has a twin brother. After whispering to a spider that he wouldn’t mind meeting him, his brother Spider (voiced by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) arrives at his London flat and turns his life upside down.
I enjoyed this adaptation far more than I did the original novel. Gaiman likes to write about the theme of seemingly ordinary men who get swept up in extraordinary events, and I remember finding the parts of the book highlighting Charlie’s humdrum existence and reticent personality a bit dull. However, the voice acting in this adaptation is excellent and the actors infuse the characters with depth and subtlety that I felt was missing in the original. Anderson makes Charlie a much more relatable character and lets Charlie’s disappointments and difficulties with self-esteem and assertiveness rise through the dialogue. Stewart-Jarrett was excellent as Spider, and captured the Anansi charm and charisma perfectly.
I think a major question that arises through work like this is about stories and who should be able to tell them. Gaiman is very interested in writing about historical gods in contemporary settings, and this book slots within his “American Gods” universe. However, this book is about Anansi, a god and character from West African, Carribean and African American folklore. Given the #OwnVoices movement, I did a bit more reading about the background of “Anansi Boys”, and Lenny Henry has done some great interviews (written and spoken) about his own involvement in the original creative process behind Gaiman’s story. The advantage of this adaptation is that there are so many black voice actors, and while the writer, adaptor and director are all white, it was really nice to learn about Henry’s significant input into the novel.
A really fantastic production that was even more enjoyable than the original book.
Short story spin-off from fantasy novel Neverwhere
The end of 2019 was drawing nigh, I only had a few books left to go, so I thought I’d better read some of the shortest ones I could find. I had really enjoyed the original novel, which was unusually an adaptation of a TV series, and had picked up this little book at not a great some time ago. Although I, like many others, have been waiting for a proper sequel to the original novel, a short story set in the same world would have to tide me over for now.
“How the Marquis Got His Coat Back” by Neil Gaiman is a short story about the Marquis de Carabas, a resident of the parallel universe known as London Below that exists alongside its namesake with some permeability between the two. The resourceful, enigmatic and charismatic Marquis finds himself at somewhat of a disadvantage when his signature coat is lost after he was mostly murdered. Missing its style, comfort and countless pockets dreadfully, the Marquis embarks on a journey through London Below through fungi, shepherds and attempts on his life to get his coat back.
This is a fun little story that explores some other corners of the London Below so many readers fell in love with in “Neverwhere”. It is always enjoyable to get inside the psyche of characters that seem so confident on the outside, and Gaiman does a fantastic job unpicking what confidence actually is. I thought that his exploration of the tension between searching for unique, inspiring role models and wanting to be unique and inspiring oneself was particularly clever.
I think that if you wanted to dip your toe into the world of London Below, you could start here, but I think you would enjoy it better if you started with “Neverwhere”. The world is meant to be eclectic, overly literal and utterly lawless, but I suspect it might be a bit more tolerable if you were to view it through the eyes of Richard rather than the Marquis.
A quick read as dark as it is full of sparks of brilliance, and an enjoyable return to a fascinating premise.
A couple of years ago, I was juggling (arguably) too many book clubs. Membership of one particular book club was made up of colleagues, and when one particular meeting fell around Indigenous Literacy Day, I thought it would be a good idea to run a bit of a Great Book Swap. The idea is pretty straightforward: bring books and gold coins, and for every gold coin you pay, you get a book and the coins go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. I ended up picking this book, but unfortunately the attendee who “donated” it didn’t realise that it was a permanent donation. I agreed to return it once I’d finished it, but unfortunately it fell a bit by the wayside. After introducing a new “system” where all my unread books are in a stack looming threateningly over me, I managed to finally get to it.
“The Moth: This is a True Story” edited by Catherine Burns is a collection of 50 true short stories adapted from spoken word performances. I hadn’t heard of The Moth prior to reading this book. Essentially, The Moth is a particular type of live event where storytellers with a really good story about something true from their own lives tell it to a live audience. The stories are loosely arranged by theme and range in topic from travel, medicine, parentage, medicine and just about everything in between.
Needless to say, there are some very compelling stories in this collection. I think my favourite, and the one that stayed with me the most, was A View of the Earth by astronaut Michael Massimino. I also really enjoyed Mission to India by infectious disease specialist Dr George Lombardi, Notes on an Exorcism by Andrew Solomon about a particular experience with depression, and LOL by delightfully well-meaning father Adam Gopnik. Some were heartbreaking, like Bicycle Safety on Essex by journalist Richard Price who witnesses racism in action and Angel by Darryl ‘DMC’ McDaniels who finds out the truth of his identity. Still others were downright illuminating like Impeachment Day by Joe Lockhart, Elevator ER by Jon Levin and The Prince and I by Jillian Lauren.
I think like every collection of stories, there are always going to be some that speak to you more than others. While most were pretty enjoyable, interesting or illuminating there were a couple that irked me. One in particular was by a man who trained monkeys in a laboratory, and just about every single part of the premise of his story I disagreed with.
A fascinating and diverse collection of stories made all the more engaging because they are all true.
I have been reading this author for a long time, and he has an impressive bibliography of novels that straddle the blurry line between fantasy and realism. This book has been sitting on my shelf for quite a while after my partner bought it for me, and I have to admit, the cover had not really attracted me. I know the artist is incredibly well-known, and while I agree the style is probably in line with the themes of the book, it is a bit skeletal and knobbly for my tastes. It sat there gathering dust for some time until I thought, I just need two more books to finish my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge, this one looks relatively short and it has been a while since I’ve read this author.
“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman is a young adult fantasy novel about a little boy called Nobody Owens who lives in a graveyard. Narrowly escaping murder like the rest of his family by the man Jack, Bod, as he is affectionately known, is granted refuge among the ghosts and creatures who live in the graveyard. Although adopted by Mr and Mrs Owens, and watched over by his mysterious guardian Silas, Bod is given a large amount of freedom within the confines of the graveyard. However, the protection cannot last forever, and sooner or later Bod must return to the real world and live his life.
This, at heart, is a book about growing up. Gaiman sets the scene by introducing the graveyard, its features and residents and uses them as a yardstick to measure how Bod grows and changes over time. In his usual subtle way, Gaiman explores the differences between good and bad, child and adult, accepting help and self-reliance – all things that young people must navigate as they start to find their own way in the world. This is also a book about boundaries, which ones are flexible, which ones are permeable and which ones must remain steadfast. Gaiman is never condescending in this book, and I think that the way that he writes about the challenges Bod faces leaves a lot of room for young readers to make up their own minds about the way things turn out. I really enjoyed how Bod aged over time, and I think it’s quite rare for a children’s book to really examine how children’s personalities develop.
I think the problem I had with this book is that while it is undeniably rich, at times it felt a bit constraining while reading it. I completely understand that Gaiman explores different kinds of freedoms and deliberately uses the border of the graveyard as both a physical and metaphorical barrier. However, because the majority of the story is set within the graveyard, and a lot of the story is Bod revisiting places and people within that graveyard, there were times where the book feels a bit repetitive.
Nevertheless, a complex and sophisticated young adult novel in Gaiman’s trademark style that I think many kids would enjoy.
I am a long-standing Neil Gaiman fan, and his novel “Ocean at the End of the Lane” is exactly the standard of story-telling I have come to love and expect from him. Neil Gaiman is a phenomenal crafter of modern fairy tales, and this book is no exception.
First of all, even though it is about a child, this is not a children’s book. If you are thinking of reading this to your kids, maybe read it first yourself and then reconsider. Similar in tone to his book “Coraline”, “Ocean at the End of the Lane” is much, much darker. It follows the story of a seven year old boy whose name I actually didn’t notice is never mentioned in the book. After the tenant who lives in his family home steals their car and kills himself, circumstances lead the protagonist to meet the mysterious family of three women from three generations who live in the house at the bottom of the lane.
I’m reluctant to write much more about the book because I don’t want to spoil it, but this is a book that lingers with you long after you have finished it. It is at times both frightening and disturbing, and extremely graphic. Also, after reading both this book and “Coraline”, I’m starting to wonder if Gaiman has a pathological fear of fabric.
This is a deeply personal book. Although not autobiographical in nature, Gaiman did acknowledge that elements of it were drawn from his own childhood home and experiences. It seems to focus on the idea of corruptibility and the trustworthiness of our memories.
I’m going to wrap this review up here, because the book really does speak for itself. If you want a modern fantasy book to make you think – read this one.