I had the great fortune of attending a Neil Gaiman appearance two weeks ago, which occurred on the day of the late Terry Pratchett’s death. Hearing Neil Gaiman speak with great warmth and emotion about his long friendship with Terry Pratchett and their marvelous collaborations made me realize that I had to read Good Omens without further delay… and many people felt the same way, including my good friend Heidi.
Heidi is a real-life friend who is also one of my very favorite book people. She attended the Neil Gaiman event with me**, and also just read Good Omens this past week. (Her second time; my first). I was going to get to work on a review of Good Omens, and then I saw Heidi’s Goodreads review, which is wonderful and really says it all.
**We even got a picture with Neil Gaiman! However… I think I look hideous and she looks great. Heidi is convinced that she looks hideous and I’m actually okay. End result? We’re not posting the picture.
With Heidi’s permission, I’m featuring her words on Good Omens as a guest review:
This was my introduction to Neil Gaiman. I have a first edition hardback, thanks to my dad, who, browsing in a bookstore one day in 1990, picked it up and thought: “This is something my daughter would like.” He had no idea. He subsequently read it himself, and to this day nurses a crush on War.
This past March 12, the date on which you might remember Sir Terry Pratchett took one last walk with an old friend, I had the improbable good/bad luck to attend an evening of conversation with Neil Gaiman. It was clear Neil was tired, and sad, but he was there. He didn’t cancel, and he very gracefully took time to chat and pose for pics at the reception beforehand. He was exactly as charming and approachable as any fan could hope.*
The talk itself, with Gaiman’s close friend Michael Chabon acting as interviewer, was meant to support his new story collection Trigger Warning, but we were in for an unscheduled surprise when it turned into a sad, funny, moving eulogy for Sir Terry. Gaiman, as he does so well, told stories. He told us about how, as a young journalist, he met his early mentor and lifelong friend Terry Pratchett. He talked about long phone calls during their pre-Internet collaboration on Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. He told funny Terry stories. And he spoke proudly about Pratchett’s brave struggle with Alzheimer’s and his very public campaign for death with dignity.
And finally, he read from this book.Which is a round-about way of getting to why I decided to reread Good Omens when I have a giant stack of new books waiting for me. This book — the story of the coming of the Antichrist (a spunky boy called Adam who’s maybe a little too rebellious for the position), and of an angel and a demon who team up to thwart the Apocalypse because they kind of like things just as they are, thank you very much — is just as delightful as it was in 1990. And from here in 2015, it gains unexpected emotional heft as a Bradbury-esque fable of that not-so-long-gone time when kids actually went out to play and make trouble of a summer day. It’s still Douglas Adams-level silly, but there’s nothing wrong with that, and its influence on the fantasy genre is undeniable. And under the comic veneer is a keen study of human (and angelic and demonic) fallibility, and the joys and responsibilities of exercising our freewill. Upgraded from four to five stars. A classic.
*In case anyone is interested in what happened when I had my chance to chat with Neil-freaking-Gaiman, I have to admit I was a little star-struck. I managed to blurt out how much I loved his screenplay for the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife.” In it, the TARDIS is enabled to manifest in a human body, and for the first time actually “meet” the Doctor. There’s a moment, after she’s been embodied for a while, she points out how humans are rather like a TARDIS — much bigger on the inside. Neil’s eyes — I swear — actually twinkled, and he replied: “Yes . . . that was one of those moments when I thought — yes, I’ve done something clever right there.” That episode won the 2011 Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.
Heidi is an amazing reader and writer, and is a horror aficionado too — so if you’re looking for great reviews and recommendations, you should check her out on Goodreads!
I’m not sure what I can say to add to Heidi’s words. I’m annoyed with myself for waiting so long to read Good Omens, when it was clear to me all along that I’d be sure to love this book. All the folks who say that Good Omens will appeal to Douglas Adams fans are entirely correct. There’s humor to be found in the bleakest of circumstances (like, oh, the end of the world), and Gaiman and Pratchett manage to keep Good Omens clever and funny even when it’s raining fish, Atlantis rises from the depths, and the Four Horsemen are abroad in the land, on motorcycles this time but utterly bad to the bone.
How can you not love a book in which Famine amuses himself in the 20th century by creating a calorie-less diet craze? Or where an angel and demon agree that the world is pretty okay, and that the true problem is nasty humans, not the temptations of hell? Throw in a vast assortment of characters, including a gang of four children known collectively as the Them (one of whom is also the Antichrist), a Hellhound who’s mostly a cuddly mutt, witchfinders, satanic nuns, and a very important delivery man, and you’ve got a book that’s just a pure joy to read.
I’ll wind up with a few random quotes and passages that made me chuckle:
It’s like you said the other day,” said Adam. “You grow up readin’ about pirates and cowboys and spacemen and stuff, and jus’ when you think the world’s all full of amazin’ things, they tell you it’s really all dead whales and chopped-down forests and nuclear waste hangin’ about for millions of years. ‘Snot worth growin’ up for, if you ask my opinion.”
The kraken stirs. And ten billion sushi dinners cry out for vengeance.
“Oh, come on. Be sensible,” said Aziraphale, doubtfully.
“That’s not good advice,” said Crowley. “That’s not good advice at all. If you sit down and think about it sensibly, you come up with some very funny ideas. Like: why make people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying ‘THIS IS IT!’?”
“I don’t remember any neon.”
Some police forces would believe anything. Not the Metropolitan police, though. The Met was the hardest, most cynically pragmatic, most stubbornly down-to-earth police force in Britain.
It would take a lot to faze a copper from the Met.
It would take, for example, a huge, battered car that was nothing more nor less than a fireball, a blazing, roaring, twisted metal lemon from Hell, driven by a grinning lunatic in sunglasses, sitting amid the flames, trailing thick black smoke, coming straight at them through the lashing rain and wind at eighty miles per hour.
That would do it every time.
If you’ve grinned a bit reading these passages, there’s nothing to do but rush right out and get a copy of Good Omens. It’s amazing. Enjoy!
Title: Good Omens
Author: Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Various editions
Publication date: 1990
Length: 367 pages
Source: Borrowed (stolen) from my daughter’s bookshelf