Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Publishing Details: HarperCollins, May 1990
Back-of-the-Book Summary: The world will end on a Saturday. Just before dinner, according to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Acnes Nutter, Witch, the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies written in 1655. The armies of Good and Evil are amassing and everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except that a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture. And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist.
When a friend recommended this book to me, I was skeptical. I’m not sure why, this friend has never recommended me anything I didn’t absolutely love, but I thought Good Omens might prove just a little too sacrilegious for my taste. Turns out I was wrong. It is exactly the right amount sacrilegious.
What I Liked:
Good Omens does not take itself too seriously. It presents some complex topics—the fall of man, the razor-thin distinction between Good and Evil, the point of humanity—through a lens of humor, and somehow it’s the most genuine representation of these ideas I’ve read in a long time.
I think there are two reasons for this. First, Good Omens is not just humorous, it’s absurd. Absurdity is fun for all kinds of reasons, but in this book, it does more than just make us laugh. Good Omens uses absurd humor to break through the nice neat walls that build our understanding of the world. For example, at one point, we see Elvis working in the equivalent of a Burger King. And don’t worry, that isn’t a spoiler, because there seems to be no point to it. It’s just a hilarious detail that shows that this world is not necessarily the same as our own, and anything can happen.
In an intelligent-without-shouting-about-how-intelligent-it-is move, Gaiman and Pratchett use humor to make some very thoughtful observations about human nature and morality. The absurdity of Good Omens allows us to find value in the pointless and to suspend our faith in the innate difference between Good and Evil, and consider that they are not as different, or even as important, as they seem.
The second reason Good Omens feels so genuine and fulfilling is because of the characters. Aziraphale is the angel who guarded Eden and gave away his flaming sword to a fleeing Adam and Eve, and Crowley is the demon who tempted Eve with the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Instead of returning to Heaven and Hell when Adam and Eve were evicted, they live on Earth as well. As the only two immortal beings, they become friends.
Their friendship doesn’t magically make Crowley good and Aziraphale better; instead, they both influence each other and become charmingly human, trying and failing to negotiate the relationship between Good and Evil. Where Gaiman and Pratchett go above and beyond is in Aziraphale and Crowley’s conversation. Instead of discussing their own personal struggle with Good and Evil, Aziraphale and Crowley consistently poke holes in the very idea of Good and Evil.
But Aziraphale and Crowley aren’t the only surprisingly lovable characters. The Antichrist will not be what you expect, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will, but you’ll still be delightfully disturbed by them, and of course there’s Agnes Nutter, the witch who predicted all this, and her descendant, Anathema Device. Throw in a few members of the Witchfinder’s Army and a bunch of kids, and you’ve got yourself a cast full of fire-starter characters. Anything could happen, and it does.
What I Disliked:
I seriously hate when book reviews say “Nothing! It was great!” because then why are you writing a book review? Every book has faults.
That being said.
I am struggling to find fault in Good Omens. There are a few jokes I’m not sure I understand (like the name Anathema Device…is that just more absurdist humor, or am I missing something?) and it is a bit unclear why exactly Crowley and Aziraphale live on Earth, but that just feels like nitpicking. The beginning is brilliant, the middle doesn’t drag for a moment, and the ending artfully avoids the countless potential pitfalls of a book like this. Sorry, but my answer really is “Nothing! It was great!”
You Might Like This Book If…
- …you like absurdist humor
- …you don’t mind a bit of blasphemy and sacrilege
- …you have qualms about Good and Evil
- …you are looking for a light but engaging read
*** I do not get paid for my reviews. I promise they aren’t all
this positive. This book was literally just. that. good. ***