Sunday, April 25, 2010

[Faux] Review: Good Omens

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Nowadays, when I plunge into the info superhighway or when I just lurk around a local bookstore, it’s almost impossible not to find something that relates to the end of the world. Internet memes discussing the Last Generation, tomes about 2012 rapture and Nostradamus’ prophecies…there are even a bunch of flicks about the coming Armageddon. Bogus or not, it’s clear that people are drawn to this topic; most of them, I have to say, are now panic-stricken and are readying for the last days.

In my case, it’s different. When I hear someone pronounce the word “apocalypse”, my face will curl up in a toothy grin because a certain creation of two literary rock stars will automatically pop in my head. It’s called Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.

What’s so funny about the end of the world, you ask? Terry Pratchett (Father of the Discworld series) and Neil Gaiman (Creator of The Sandman graphic novels) illustrate all answers to that in this droll masterpiece and cult classic. The story is about, well, the end of the world…or perhaps how Heaven and Hell comprehend the ineffable plan of God about the day of reckoning, and how a hassled demon messes the whole thing up by a switch-at-birth mistake. The infant Antichrist ends up in the care of the wrong family—away from heavenly or demonic influences—and grows up to be a normal child, resulting in a series of events that will undoubtedly make the reader laugh out loud.

I’ve always been smitten with the Book of Revelation as far as I can remember. There is something in it that appeals to me—oh, yes, I did spend some time before obsessively attempting to decipher the metaphors or to figure out what a leviathan or a behemoth really is—and I think it has contributed a lot to the fact that my cup of tea today when it comes to literature is apocalyptic, paranormal, and science fiction. Neil Gaiman is my favorite author of all time (and my hero, his myriad of works inspired me to be a writer), so when I found out that he penned a book about the end of the world, you wouldn’t imagine how high my fangirl heart leapt.

I think the genius of Good Omens is that at its heart, it is more than just a four-hundred-page of bon mots and silliness; its satiric foundation lies not too deep beneath the thick layer of guffaws and giggles. The authors are able to convey their message through adroit storytelling, never letting the reader feel a minute of boredom while tackling issues concerning the environment (Global Warming in particular), government, war, and poverty, most of which are told via the anthropomorphic characters of War, Famine, Pollution (Pestilence retired in 1936 when penicillin was invented), and Death, also known as the Four Horsemen—or motorcyclists in this case—of Apocalypse. Human behavior and the workings of mortal minds are as well discussed very efficiently especially in conversations of the two main protagonists.

Aziraphale (an Angel and part-time rare book-dealer) and Crowley (an Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards) become the best of friends after six thousand years of thwarting each other’s deeds on Earth. Usually it is through Crowley’s introspection that the readers realize “the good are half-bad and the bad are half-good”, and the fact that most of the time humans don’t need any diabolical urgings to conceive bad things and put them into practice. He easily became my favorite character because of his attitude. He is often seen as a cool, gadget-loving, sunglasses-toting guy who drives a shiny black Bentley and kills time by doing minor mischief. The poor demon, however, has his bottled up fear and anger towards Hell and he often shows this to his houseplants by talking and imposing to them the fear of God—or more precisely, the fear of Crowley. Hell exercises tyranny over him and he vents his frustration by exercising the same kind of tyranny over his plants. For some reason, his character seems to tug at my heartstrings in an odd sort of way. Behind his grinning façade is a face that suffers—“He’d been an angel once. He hadn’t meant to Fall. He’d just hung around with the wrong people.”

I find a lot of similarities between myself and Aziraphale. I’m overly fussy, I have this parent-like possessiveness of my books, I like classical music (especially Tchaikovsky), and I love sushi restaurants. Perhaps that's why I’m drawn to Crowley so much; it’s as if Aziraphale became my direct conduit in the story, as if I were standing there myself witnessing what Crowley had really gone through, and I knew that somewhere deep inside him there is goodness. Thanks to the bromance-y undercurrent, all of these became all too easy.

The plot charges along at a gallop, and there is no single page that will not make you smile or giggle. Mini-storylines pop out every once in a while, and though they may not show any relevance to the main plot, you’ll discover at the end that everything is linked together. One remarkable thing I noticed about these subplots is the characters. No matter how short their exposure may be, there will always be something that will stick in your mind and heart: a peek at their touching ordinary lives laid in stark contrast with the complicated happenings leading to the Armageddon. Gaiman successfully showcased his morbid humor here.

As an aspiring writer/journalist-in-training, I consider this book as a personal touchstone: a masterpiece that will bring entertainment like no other and at the same time relay thought-provoking messages that the present society needs to understand. It’s been twenty years since its first publication, but its contents show how timeless this story is. There’s a scene in the story where War, Pollution, and Famine vanish into thin air, and when someone asks where they went, Death replies: “Where they belong. Where they have always been. In the minds of man.”

I’m no fortuneteller of any kind, but I think one thing is clear: if the world is really going to end, we humans contributed a lot to it—perhaps we acted as catalysts. Instead of panicking and counting down the days until a certain date comes, why not devote your time doing what you can to make our world (excuse me for the cliché) a better place?

After that, let's wait for the good omens that will manifest to symbolize a long, brighter future for us.

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