Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: Good Omens

Review (repost): Good Omens
Authors: Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Genre: Fantasy, comedy/satire
My Rating: ★★★★★

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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—it’s ridiculous but it’s true—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: A Narrative of Certain Events occurring in the last eleven years of human history, in strict accordance as shall be shewn with: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter Compiled and edited, with Footnotes of an Educational Nature and Precepts for the Wise. Or simply, Good Omens. :p

What’s so funny about the end of the world, you ask? Terry Pratchett (Father of theDiscworld series) and Neil Gaiman (Creator of The Sandman graphic novels) illustrate all answers to that in this droll masterpiece and cult classic. It details the Armageddon…or perhaps how Heaven and Hell comprehend the ineffable plan of God about the day of reckoning, and how a Satanic nun messes the whole thing up by a switch-at-birth mistake that involves the Antichrist. An unlikely partnership between representatives of heaven and hell was formed after agreeing that they don’t like the world to vanish so soon, as they became so fond of human lifestyle after many years of staying on Earth. They decide to look after a kid who they thought of as the Antichrist and make sure the kid will receive balanced influences. But it turns out that the real 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 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 English humor. The authors are able to convey their message through adroit storytelling, never letting the reader feel a minute of boredom while tackling issues concerning religion, 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.

The main characters: Aziraphale (an angel and part-time rare book-dealer) and Crowley (a demon, or an angel who did not so much fall as sauntered 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 someone who suffers—“He’d been an angel once. He hadn’t meant to Fall. He’d just hung around with the wrong people.”

Aziraphale is also not hard to love: he is the tartan-loving, sushi-craving bookworm with a penchant for using endearments for everyone. Aziraphale once believed that anyone from his lot will only do good things, and anyone from Crowley’s side would only commit bad acts. But in the end, he learned that’s not always the case—and he himself is a proof of it. Together, Aziraphale and Crowley make an unconventional, hilarious partnership that can rival Watson-Holmes (no goggles needed to see the bromancy friendship!).

The plot charges along at a gallop, and there is no single page that will fail to 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. The authors successfully showcased their morbid humor here.

This book, for me, is 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.” Everything boils down to this: humans are lousy stewards of the earth, and if it is going to be destroyed, then we for sure acted as a catalyst for it.

Five stars for a rippingly humorous and surprisingly riveting read.

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