Sunday 20 August 2017

Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

A few thoughts on Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens

This is practically the Sholay of humorous fantasy books, written by the two biggest names in the industry, known to everyone who is aware of the field, and recommended on every book forum that exists. I’m almost scared to admit that it has been lying on my bookshelf for five years and I only now happened to pick it up.
I’m even more scared to admit that I didn’t think it was the best ever book of the genre. Sure, parts of it were good, and parts of it reminded me of other books that I’ve enjoyed a lot more (back to this topic in a bit), but overall it felt a bit jumbled up and generally pantsed as far as the story went.

And pantsed seems to be exactly what it was : Gaiman wrote a bit, sent it to Pratchett, who added some, and then back to Gaiman, and so on and so forth. It grew organically, thus gaining both the sudden unexpectedly rich passages that come from spontaneous writing, and also suffering from the not knowing the overall arc in advance. The jokes come thick and fast - but either work for you or fall flat, depending on your mood. Maybe if I’d read this lying around in a hammock in Hawaii, all tensions left behind, I’d have enjoyed this more. As it was, the success rate was maybe 30% of the jokes. 

I don't suppose I need to explain the story to you: Apocalypse is here, and an angel and a demon who have gotten far too used to the world as it is, are trying to prevent it happening. In the meantime, the Antichrist, who is an 11 year old boy, is not quite sure he wants to destroy the world. But it would be nice to make this minor change, and that one... and in the middle of all this is a witch who's descended from the only true prophesier ever, a young man who's just signed up with the Witchfinder army, and random other folks who are annoyed at the turn of events. About what you'd expect from the intellectually zany Terry Pratchett and the intellectually playful Neil Gaiman.

But returning to the bits I particularly enjoyed: DEATH of Discworld-and-capital-letters fame, who livened up every scene he was in, even if he wasn’t as tongue-in-cheek as in the Pratchett books. His three other partner horsemen (of the apocalypse) felt kind of forced in comparison - walk-on roles, delivering their lines because they were asked to.

And another bit I loved: William Brown, who shows up here renamed to Adam Young. As a long-time fan of the Richmal Crompton William books, I noticed Gaiman’s mimicry of the accent as soon as I saw it, and was vindicated when Gaiman mentioned it as a specific source in his afterword.

Another little bit, not directly related to the book itself, which I’m loving: David Tennant of Broadchurch/Jessica Jones/Dr. Who fame will be playing Crowley in a TV series of Good Omens. I couldn’t have asked for a better actor!

But did I hate the book? Not really. Loved it to bits? Not really. The Discworld books are the last word in humorous fantasy if you ask me, and I’d probably choose those over Good Omens.

Sorry, Neil. 

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