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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman - Good Omens ****

Remember back when funny books were funny? Back before you went to college and found out that Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen weren't funny after all, but Samuel Beckett and Charles Dickens were hilarious? Remember when the words on the page didn't just make you smile wryly and shake your head in shame for humanity, but actually made you laugh out loud? Well, that's the kind of humor that Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's 1990 release Good Omens brims with, and it is so damn good.

The two British authors were both relatively unknown at the time of their partnership, having met when Gaiman (working as a journalist at the time) interviewed Pratchett on the success of his first major novel, The Colour of Magic. The two became quick friends and proceeded to write the 398 pages of the now cult classic novel by sending floppy disks through the mail and calling each other on the phone. Of course, that story is all explained in the appendix, provided you don't pick up an original printing of the book (if you do do that, however, you can probably sell it for quite a bit of change, so don't be discouraged by your lack of author interviews).

But the real story at hand is, of course, the narrative of Good Omens itself--the tale of two friends, a demon named Crowley and an angel named Aziraphale who have spent all of human existence on earth and have rather come to like it, so when it comes time for the Apocalypse, they try to do whatever is in their powers to stop it. The cast of co-stars can only described as "vast," with some characters only popping in long enough for Aziraphale to take over their body or to go on a shooting rampage. The main other characters though, include: the Antichrist himself, a young boy named Adam, and his gang of friends; a witchfinder named Newton Pulsifer and his love interest, Anathema Device, who just happens to be a witch (and one whose ancestor, Agnes Nutter was burned at the stake by Newton's great-great-etc. grandfather, Thou-Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer.

Perhaps you're beginning to pick up on that sense of humor I mentioned?

That's what makes this book so great. I'm sort of a sucker for religious humor (and religious horror movies), and I've read a lot of books about the End Days. This one has to rank near the top, maybe even as the downright finest. It's humor ranges from simple little comedic bits to social commentary on religion and the human race--but no matter how big or small the joke is, every one of them is attended to equally, and they are all funny because of that. Though some of the British jokes and references flew by me (a problem the authors usually account for in their humorous footnotes), I really did enjoy this book, all the way from the plot down to how it was written. It really is an impressive feat for a co-authored book to feel so seemless (this honestly almost puts shame to the excellent Stephen King/Peter Straub double-ups, The Talisman and Black House).

So let down your guard, pack away that condescension that your professors poured into you Lit class after Lit class, and resist the urge to turn up your nose at any novel you can buy in trade paperback form in airports for $7.99 (but higher in Canada--oh wait, not anymore!). I actually laughed out loud as I read Good Omens. A few times, to be completely honest. And that's pretty impressive for a cynical, jaded old bastard like me.

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