According to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter - the world's only totally reliable guide to the future - the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just after tea...
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Featuring a book-hoarding angel, a Bentley-driving demon, a cantankerous old witch-hunter, two dukes of hell, and the eight-year-old Antichrist (as well as assorted Tibetans, Americans, and ducks whose routine feed comes from the hands of the world’s most powerful politicians) the premise of Good Omens holds so much potential for chaos it’s practically flammable.
And that potential is executed superbly; the combined skills of the two authors make for a marvelous tale of giddy mayhem with moments of touching humanity, executed with such flair and style that I could not help tumbling head over heels into the narrative, pausing only now and again to loose uncontrollable hoots of mirth. Which, considering I read this over the two days I was in Oxford for my application interview, could be considered either a good or bad thing depending on your perspective.
The novel’s storyline is multi-stranded, following the courses of multiple narrators through a story that begins in the early days of Eden and ends on “the first day of the rest of our lives”. That said, it's not a hugely long book; I was through it in about four hours, in about half as many sittings. The pace is excellent, and the brilliantly humorous prose (Sir Pratchett, teach me your ways!) keeps you absolutely glued to the page, even during the slower chapters. There's a little bit of complex language that creeps in every now and again, but it's nothing a little context, and maybe a quick glance at a dictionary, won't solve.
Another massive bonus is that, despite the contentious content, the actual religious aspects of the text are kept to a minimum and handled tastefully, with no judgemental statements, and no specific religion coming into mention at any stage - it's a book of practical ethics rather than theological perspectives, you might say. Meanwhile the wonderfully original takes on characters such as the Four Riders of the Apocalypse add a new freshness and vitality to the long-suffering apocalypse genre.
The whole book is a combination of engaging realism and clever parody, with plenty of hidden nuances and jokes for the sharp-eyed reader to spot. Furthermore, although it's a stunning example of quality comedy, the story’s achingly simple moments of humanity are the sort that'll stick with you. Especially due to their use of dolphins.
The final major highlight is, of course, the characters - what else would we expect from Gaiman and Pratchett? The cast of the novel is a big one, but even the characters who we meet fairly late in the narrative are individual, exciting, and wonderfully crafted as both caricatures of archetypes and flawed human beings (figuratively speaking) as well. We get to know them all personally, and even their moments of introspection are handled so well that you hardly notice what might otherwise be a horrific infodumping eyesore. A word of warning: Crowley the demon's strategy for dealing with his houseplants is probably not one best copied by those of us who can't smite things on command.
All in all, a fantastic, hilarious, and thoroughly enjoyable read, especially for those with burning questions regarding the intrinsic evil of the M25 and the seeming omnipresence of Queen CDs.
An ineffable five stars from me!
~ Charley R