Sunday, 10 March 2013

Book Review: Good Omens

Title: Good Omens
Author: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Year Published: 1990
Genre: Urban fantasy, Comedy

Good Omens is about the Apocalypse – the actual biblical, Judgement Day, end-of-the-world sort, as opposed to the prelude-to-a-distopia variety. Angels and demons have been fighting to influence the fate of mankind for centuries, and this now this is all set to culminate in the Great Battle, set to take place on Saturday.

There are some, however, who don't want the world to end. The angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley have formed an alliance of sorts, each half-arse-ing their jobs so as to make their own lives easier. Neither wants things to change. Meanwhile, Adam, an eleven year old boy, is simply enjoying the summer with his friends in Lower Tadfield, England. Unbeknownst to Adam, he is the Antichrist, and therefore key to the whole Armageddon thing. At this crucial time in the world's fate, Aziraphale, Crowley, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a witch and a witchfinder all find themselves drawn to Lower Tadfield.

This is undoubtedly one of the funniest and most inventive books I have ever read, and perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, given who the authors are. It's littered with random footnotes, wordplay and satire on pretty much everything. I'd recommend it based on the lulz alone – there's at least one on every page. Some knowledge about the biblical End of Days would probably bolster you enjoyment of the book. If you're religious, you should know by now whether this sort of thing is your cup of tea, though I'll just add that the book doesn't go out of its way to either insult or promote Christianity or religion in general.

My favourite parts were the bits about Agnes Nutter and the Four Horsemen – they were quirky and funny, a fresh take on an old concept. Crowley and Aziraphale also make a great odd couple. My least favourite part were the bits involving the Them, since I wasn't particularly enamoured of their cute kid discussions and found them somewhat repetitive. Further, even though the book is a pleasure to read, by the time I got to the middle I was impatient for the world to end already since the book is essentially build-up to that event.

I also have a not-quite-criticism of the way women are handled in this book. They're generally portrayed as independent and (more) capable (than men), which I guess is great and all, but at times it felt like the authors were actively pushing some sort of pro-female agenda. My impression wasn't so much that women are fantastic, but rather that the authors want us to know that they're not sexist, in which case, mission accomplished, I think? I'm probably being cynical and over-sensitive here, and I know this is unlikely to be the authors' intention, and you can call me ridiculous, but I couldn't help that this was my impression. I doubt that many others would have the same reaction – if anything, I reckon most people would be pleased that there are strong female characters at all... Another bit of side-eye I'll throw the authors' way regards how apparently, all Tibetans are Buddhist monks... but I digress.

The book loses a bit of steam towards the end, as if the authors weren't sure where to take things but had to end it somehow. Given the interesting premise, I suppose this was something bound to happen. Still, the writing is so charming that the outcome doesn't really matter and I can see why Good Omens is beloved by so many. It's held up very well for a contemporary book and its critique on pollution and body image is still relevant today. Most importantly, it's very funny, and that's the main basis on which I'd recommend it to others.

Alex's Rating: 4/5

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