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May 29, 2017 | by  | in Books |
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A review of American Gods in lieu of its television adaptation

In recent years Neil Gaiman has become a pocket of the internet’s nerd crush of choice, thanks to the success of books (and their adaptations) like Coraline, the enduring relevance of his fantastic Sandman series, and his relationship to fellow internet crush Amanda Palmer. Like any cultural icon that draws a rabid and loud fan base on the internet, a backlash happens with questions inevitably circulate about whether their fame and fandom is really justified. Having now read a chunk of the Sandman series, and polishing off American Gods, this reviewer is more than happy to jump on the Gaiman bandwagon and loudly sing his praises.

I mention this because the version of American Gods I read (the 10th anniversary edition with a cool new throwback cover) makes the claim that it is a “Bestselling Underground Novel.” Apart from the apparent oxymoron of this statement, it is informative to the changes the internet has fostered in the way we consume culture. Cult books, films, and music were cult for the very fact that few people were able to access the material and those that could, struggled to connect with other fans. The internet has largely obliterated these obstacles, providing mainstream success and acknowledgement to the likes of Gaiman, and yet somehow the idea of “cult” maintains as a synonym for “good” or “classic”. Even in an era when most of us are able to access an inexhaustible (and free) trove of culture through our computers, we still desire to find that piece of culture that the mainstream has neglected. In this environment I suppose the oxymoron of “Bestselling Underground Novel” will just have to suffice.

That wasn’t just a ramble either. Rather, cultural change of this type is a prominent theme of American Gods, which pits our old and less rational belief systems against our new, more rational, and technologically based ones, in the middle of which is the main character and reader-proxy Shadow. Shadow is the prototypical “everyman” and our entry into the America Gaiman creates. Shadow is key to the novel’s success as the narrative takes us on a journey across this America while encountering various gods and characters from various mythologies along the way. In a text as reference heavy as American Gods, it would be easy for the narrative to slip into unintelligibility or come across as superior — as if the author were flaunting their superior knowledge. But Gaiman is able to make the novel feel inclusive, and this is where I give him the most credit. Not only does Shadow help the reader navigate the novel’s dense references, Gaiman manages to make him feel wholly human, providing American Gods with an emotional centre around which the author’s more eccentric themes and desires can revolve. The success of the television adaptation will rest heavily on Ricky Whittle, the man tasked with portraying Shadow and his ability to avoid being swallowed by the more showy characters and actors around him.

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