Thursday, December 19, 2019

Book 212: Good Omens

"It wasn't a dark and stormy night. It should have been, but that’s the weather for you. For every mad scientist who’s had a convenient thunderstorm just on the night his Great Work is finished and lying on the slab, there have been dozens who’ve sat around aimlessly under the peaceful stars while Igor clocks up the overtime."

Dates read: March 2-7, 2018

Rating: 8/10

At heart, I'm an optimist. I want to believe that people are good. And while I do believe individual people are often good, I've got a very pessimistic view of people in groups. "People", as in multiple ones in roughly the same place at roughly the same time, are terrible. I've read too many psych experiments (the Stanford prison experiment, the Milgram experiment, virtually any study about in-group v out-group identification) to come to any other conclusion.

Human nature, and the supernatural battle to influence it from God and the Devil, are at the heart of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's novel, Good Omens. That sounds serious, but this book really isn't: it's breezy, funny, and light, while still managing to play with some weighty themes. The story centers on two beings: the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, who first meet outside the Garden of Eden after the Fall. Over the long millennia that follow, the two (who've settled in England) strike up a wary friendship, though they're constantly acting to thwart each other. When the Antichrist is born, though, and the end of the world starts to become uncomfortably nigh, they realize that even though they "want" the war between heaven and hell to begin so that their side can be eternally victorious, they would actually much rather continue to enjoy their current state of existence, and they conspire to keep it from happening.

There's a mix-up, though, in the birthing ward where the Antichrist is supposed to be placed with the right family. Instead of being given a righteously portentous name and going home with the world-traveling American ambassador, he's actually called Adam and sent home with a perfectly normal little family in a perfectly normal little town in the English countryside. The same perfectly little down where Anathema Device, the last descendant of a medieval witch and prophetess, Agnes Nutter, happens to live. Those prophecies are unfailingly accurate, and they say the world is due to end on Saturday, so things are about to get real.

What a delight this book was to read! The writing is sparkling with wit, and it doesn't have a feeling of being grafted together from the work of two different authors, either. I can't really compare it to both authors on their own, since I've only ever read Gaiman's solo work, but I can tell you that if you generally enjoy him, you'll likely enjoy this as well. There's all kinds of ingenious little touches, like Crowley's obsession with his car, the hellhound sent to be a companion to Adam being inadvertently wished by him from a slavering beast into a little spaniel-terrier type dog with a floppy ear, and the re-imagination of the Four Horsemen into a motorcycle gang.

But it's not just fluffy apocalyptic fun, the theme of the cruelties humans inflict on each other with very little if any direction from the active forces of evil resonates throughout. We so often chose to deal with life's little injustices by getting snippy with the barista, who in turn goes home and gets snippy with their roommate, who takes it out on their partner, etc etc. The shoulder devil is just so much easier and more instantly gratifying to give into than the shoulder angel. I don't personally believe in any sort of incorporeal forces of good and evil, but I do believe we chose every day whether to be our better selves or, well, our less good selves, and this book, as well as entertaining me, reminded me that it doesn't hurt to try to be the latter. Definitely highly recommended.

One year ago, I was reading: The Prince of Tides

Two years ago, I was reading: The Power

Three years ago, I was reading: The Red Queen

Four years ago, I was reading: Occidental Mythology


  1. Ah, I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. It's one of my favorites. Gaiman is fantastic of course, but at heart I'm a huge Pratchett fangirl and one of the best things about him is how he manages to make absolutely cutting observations in one soft line of dialogue. Handling weighty themes with a light touch is one of his strengths as an author and I love that you enjoyed that part of Good Omens!

    Some of the same observations about human nature (only more sharp and pointed, if you can believe it) are in Pratchett's book Small Gods. I think you might like that one.

    1. I actually really want to get into Small Gods a good place to start? I've read that the first books are actually not the best ones to begin with!