Good books are such a powerful thing for people because they are completely subjective. What you think is fabulous, could leave someone else completely unmoved. One man’s Hamlet is another’s Da Vinci Code.
Terry Pratchett is many people’s guilty pleasure when it comes to their book collections. It’s said that his multi-million selling Discworld books have gone off the boil over the last few, which I’m inclined to agree with, but they are still remarkably clever pieces of comedic satire, dressed up as knockabout fantasy novels.
Neil Gaiman, on the other hand, is at the other end of the career spectrum really. He’s in his 40s, but is really producing better and better work. As one of the world’s most highly renowned comic-book writers, he has produced novels and screenplays and is the justifiably regarded dark prince of quality gothic writing.
And, this is why Good Omens is such and excellent book. Pratchett’s tight plotting and humour is matched and expanded by Gaiman’s own seemingly limitless imagination and ability to weave a gripping and believable narrative out of the most unlikely circumstances.
Essentially it is the story of an angel and a demon, Azariphale and Crowley, living on Earth, supposedly to make sure that their own side is getting its fair share of souls. As it turns out though they actually quite like living here and have found that their own lives, that of a corporate yuppie and antiquarian bookseller, are really quite enjoyable. Furthermore, they’re now friends and meet often to discuss whether anyone else from their ‘sides’ are creating problems, to try and stop them.
At the same time the son of Satan is being born in a hospital that is run by nurses dedicated to the Dark Lord. There’s an accidental swapping of babies and Warlock, a perfectly normal boy is given to an American Senator, whilst Adam, the true dark-one is given to a regular family to live a happy life in the English countryside. His attempts to create the perfect idyllic childhood, like he’s read in his 1950s ripping boys adventures, begin to fold reality as his in-built powers warp to create the fake reality he yearns for. The four horsemen of the apocalypse are on their way. It is the end of days. Oh, and some ancient prophesies of a murdered witch are coming true.
This is barely a smattering of the actual depth of the multi-layering that goes on in this book. The characterization is immense, especially considering the fact that it’s a genuine paperback of less than 300 pages. You completely buy in to every main character, and there are loads of them. It’s funny, clever, telling, sarcastic and satirical, woven with parodies and gags by the dozen. All of this is bound up in a wealth of black-magic, the occult, folklore and general wizardry.
Good Omens is a guilty pleasure for sure, but I think that it’s elevated beyond that. This is a really well written book, at almost every level. If it wasn’t comedy, it’d be considered quality literature. The fact it’s got satire and fantasy mean it’ll never be taken serious by a broader community of readers, but it bloody should be.