So I finally read Good Omens…

Good Omens…and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, actually.

The 1990 comedy novel about the end of the world, written by both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, both now giants in the fantasy genre (although both quite different writers, in my opinion), has been hugely successful in the nearly quarter of a century since its release, often being cited as a favourite book by many fans of either or both authors, and indeed by quite a large number of my friends. It often also makes various lists of the most popular books, and books you must read, and so on and so forth.

Considering all of this, it’s fair to say I came to this book with certain expectations. I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to blow me away, and it wasn’t going to become one of my favourite ever novels, but I expected to enjoy it a lot, and I thought I’d knock it over in a week at the most.

It ended up taking months to read. About three, I think. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad novel, and in fact the second half I gulped down in a couple of days, when I finally made the effort to do so. But the first half of the book just completely failed to hook me in a way that frankly should have put me off the book entirely. If it wasn’t so well talked about by so many people, I would have given up on this novel before reaching the half way point.

I’ve been trying to pinpoint in my mind what I did and didn’t like about Good Omens for a few days now. The idea in itself is quite clever, although it also leaves the ending somewhat predictable – either the world ends in a really chaotic but humorous manner, or it doesn’t end and somehow it makes some vague statement about good and evil and human nature and blah blah blah. There’s certainly lots of potential in exploring the apocalypse in a comedic way but I much preferred the way Douglas Adams addressed the end of existence in The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe.

The characters were really a mixed bag. I loved the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and I am fairly sure these characters were largely Neil Gaiman’s work (they just seemed more like him). I really like the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, who if anything were the book’s main characters as they desperately tried to avert the apocalypse because both are quite happy on the Earth the way it is. Adam, the young boy on whom the fate of everything rests even though he has no idea, and his friends who follow his every word, get rather tiresome quite quickly, as do the witch-finders with their storylines. The prophecies of Agnes Nutter are quite funny in their own way, and help bring other parts of the story to life, but overall the characters were very hit and miss.

The writing, like the characters, is also hit and miss. There were times where I was totally engrossed in the story, and points where I was howling with laughter. There were also quite a lot of times where I was simply quite bored. One thing I have to admit is that while I am becoming quite a big fan of Neil Gaiman, I struggle to enjoy Terry Pratchett, and as Pratchett supposedly wrote the greater portion of this novel, I think that does pose a bit of an issue for me. I could almost tell which part was written by who because I enjoyed the parts that felt more like Gaiman, and was bored by the rest (and yes, I am aware there will have been some bits that were edited so many times they were probably written by both authors). I also thing the writing at times was too slow; as I have already mentioned, I nearly gave up on the book during the first half because it just felt like nothing was happening, both with the plot and the character development.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I quite liked the book. I just didn’t love it. I can see why people do obsess over it, as there is something awfully cult classic about it, and I know a lot of people do really appreciate both authors equally which I suspect would help in one’s enjoyment of it overall. Maybe my expectations were too high, which is always a dangerous approach to any book, film, music album or any form of artistic expression really, but Good Omens just didn’t blow me away by any stretch of the imagination. Good Omens is bang on – they certainly weren’t great omens. Just good.

32 thoughts on “So I finally read Good Omens…

  1. I’m going to make a confession that may make you wish we weren’t fellow Coasties – I’ve never heard of this book (until now) and I’ve never heard of Neil Gaiman. Please don’t hate me. But I do like most things to do with the apocalypse (particularly the horsemen). You can do so much with it! So I think I’ll give this book a go. But I sometimes wonder how two authors can write one book. How do you think that works?

    • Whaaaaat? Actually, I’m more surprised you’ve never heard of Neil Gaiman than I am this book. Neil Gaiman is huuuuge. He wrote Stardust (which was made into a movie, the same year he also wrote the movie script for Beowulf, a little something I only just found out recently), he wrote Coraline which has also been made into a movie, he wrote awesome books like Neverwhere (which I’m pretty sure I reviewed recently), and a whole bunch of others people keep telling me about like American Gods and Anansi Boys. Anyway. No I don’t hate you for it hahahahaha, but you should really read some Neil Gaiman. I recently bought all his novels for super cheap from book depo, and have since had most of them out on loan to friends! 😛
      I think you can do a lot with the concept of the Apocalypse – I definitely like the idea, and it did work in places.
      With the two authors writing the one book, from what I understand with the first draft they both wrote bits and flicked it back and forth to each other, with each writer focusing on particular characters and subplots, but as the rewriting went on they started to fuse who wrote what bits so that neither have a clue anymore. As it was written in the late 80s they were doing it on good old floppy disks, too, haha.

      • Wow – I’m surprised I’ve not heard of him either. Though while I’ve heard of Stardust and Coraline, I’ve never actually watched them and so didn’t realise they were based on his books. I need to get out from under my rock.
        I think it would be a nightmare to collaborate with someone else on a book. I know that musicians do it all the time (someone writes the words and someone else the music), but I think with music it would be a little easier to change things around to suit each other. But with a book there are so many variables and different ways the plot could go – and that’s just with one author!
        Ah the good old floppy disks – that would have been even more annoying. Imagine if they didn’t live near each other and had to post things all the time too! (Did email exist then??)

        • Hahaha, I guess it’s easy to miss certain authors though – there are plenty that everybody presumes I would know and have read, and they are horrified to discover I haven’t! 😛
          I find it interesting actually when musicians collaborate with someone outside of music. Like, Ben Folds collaborated with Nick Hornby about 3 years ago, where Hornby wrote the lyrics, and it was a brilliant album. But you’re right, it would be hard collaborating with writing, especially 20 years ago. I once co-wrote a short story with a friend for a university assignment actually, and it was so much fun, but that was because we were being silly. We just wrote a bit, emailed it on, and just passed it back and forth, and then met up and sat together while we edited it and tweaked certain parts to make it flow better. But I can’t imagine doing a whole novel like that.
          Interestingly enough, while Gaiman and Pratchett did live near each other back in 1990, they no longer do (Gaiman having moved to the US), and Pratchett has cited this as one of the main reasons they probably won’t do a sequel to Good Omens, or any similar project. And no, email definitely didn’t exist in 1990, at least not commercially. I remember when 1995 swung around and the internet became available. I got myself an email address and then…had nobody to actually email as none of my friends had the internet yet. Mind, I was 9 years old hahaha.

  2. I’m a fan of Pratchett and have read all his Discworld novels multiple times. And I have to say that when you read them all in published order, you cannot escape the fact that his writing changes and that you can almost pinpoint which book it occurred in.

    Good Omens was written around the time of the second change. It is after this that I think Terry really hit his stride in quality. Unfortunately, I don’t think Good Omens didn’t quite get all the benefit of that.

    That said, the only other problem I see with Good Omens is that it rather relies on the reader knowing a healthy piece of Christian mythology about how the world was created and how it is prophesied to end. Without knowing that, the book doesn’t make nearly as much sense!

    • Ahhh interesting! So maybe I should read some more recent books by Pratchett and see if I like them more than his older stuff? Actually, I think I have a copy of Nation, which I don’t think is a Discworld novel. Is that one any good? I’ve heard good things about it, I bought it on a recommendation (and it was super cheap) but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
      That is a good point too, about the understanding of Christian beliefs on the beginning and the end of the world, and it’s something I guess I took for granted while reading it. But increasingly less and less people know about that sort of stuff so yeah, it’d be hard to fully enjoy the book I imagine – as you say it wouldn’t make half as much sense!

      • Nation is good, but very not Discworld. There are ideas that are explored that could be very difficult to do in the Discworld setting. I’ve only read it once.

        If you want a taste of Pratchett arguably at his very best, I would recommend The Truth, followed by Monstrous Regiment. If you want to start a little further back, then I would point you at Guards! Guards!

        • Ahhh okay, that’s interesting to know. I might read it seeing as though I have it already, but I will definitely look into those other titles you mention. If I don’t like any of those then maybe I need to give up haha. I suspect I will like them though. We’ll see. Thanks for the recommendations! 🙂

  3. It’s hard, sometimes, to read a book after hearing so much hype about it. I usually try not to have any expectations when I begin a book so I can approach it with an open mind and either love it, hate it or anywhere in between without influence from anywhere. That way, I’m rarely disappointed, although there was that one book by a well-known author who everyone said to me, if you like ‘Bones’ you’ll love books by this particular author. Three hundred pages into her book someone finally died. For a story that is supposed to be a forensic murder mystery, I felt cheated. So I guess I can relate to your feelings about this book. Hearing people say it’s great doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to like it. 🙂

    • I agree, generally I try not to expect anything either way from books, but it is hard when it is hyped up so much. Sometimes it pays off, like last year with The Fault In Our Stars (which I am still yet to hear or see a bad review about), but then sometimes it leads to disappointment.
      Hahaha that is pretty bad that it took that long for someone to die in a forensic murder mystery. I’ve killed off characters faster than that in my comedies, hahaha. 😛

        • I might share those stories one day, though they’re pretty bad a lot of them. There’s only one or two stories I’ve ever written that I think, with a lot of rewriting and editing, might possibly just be suitable for publishing (but probably not still). But then I am my own worst critic 😛

            • Quite possibly. I think when I’ve finished the second draft of anything, that’s the point I’ll look for beta readers and that kind of thing, for sure. The current novel I’m slowly (very slowly) writing the second draft of is changing phenomenally between the two versions, and as I shift towards this new story I become more glad I never let anybody (except my partner, I’ll admit) see the original draft. 😛

    • Thank you! Yeah, I am glad I read a couple of Gaiman books first, although Good Omens is definitely more Pratchett than Gaiman overall. At that point in time Gaiman wasn’t really established as a novelist yet (he was writing graphic novels mostly before Good Omens, from what I understand).

  4. I am a huge Pratchett fan and have all of the disc world books and most of his children’s stories but I shy away from the joint efforts and I can’t tell you why – they just don’t call to me isn’t that odd. I did find that when I started reading The Colour of Magic many many years ago I threw it to one side and only gave it a re-start when I found myself with nothing left to read being stranded for while on my own looking after the cats in France. To say I was hooked would be understating it. I introduced my dad to them and he is similarly keen. I wonder then if it is a question of timing, for me the discworld, the Great Sky Turtle and the Rim Fall are the stuff of magic and there is no question. But no, I am not drawn to the joint efforts.

    • Hmm, it’s interesting that you enjoyed Pratchett’s books only have re-attempting to read them. I started with Mort, and while it has a couple of funny moments, it wasn’t that funny and I didn’t feel the writing was good (although the idea was interesting). I think the thing that bugged me, and probably still does, with Pratchett’s work (from what little I have read) is that he seems to be trying too hard to be weird and quirky, so it comes across as forced as compared to the likes of Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams who were just naturally bizarre in their writing. But I guess each to their own – maybe one day I will like Pratchett.
      Joint novels are definitely a strange idea, and something I would normally shy away from as well. But I guess this novel is a bit of a cult classic really, so I had to give it a whirl. 🙂

  5. I have not read it but I did understand why you mean about starting a book and not getting hooked on it. I always think “well I started it so I have to finish it”. Silly me, that’s not a requirement!

      • Nah, not really. It’s about Fate falling in love with a human. I liked it because the author personifies fate, death, gluttony, I think lust is one….it’s pretty cool. Had a crazy twist at the end that I wasn’t really expecting.

        • OHHH I see what you mean, and why Good Omens would remind you of it (as in, how the four horsemen of the apocalypse are personifications in themselves, etc). Lust being personified…that would be interesting hahaha! It sounds like an interesting idea, and as a writer I find myself thinking how challenging that would be to sustain the idea through an entire book. Still, it sounds quite interesting – I may have to read this one day (I say one day because my to-be-read list is literally in the hundreds at the moment…even the stuff on my shelves at home that needs to be read is over a hundred books, as I collect them faster than I read them). I like odd ideas for books like this. 🙂

            • I need to re-read more of my books…you always appreciate a book more on the second read. Sigh. Too many things to do, not enough time. 😛
              And hahaha I just saw your email address and laughed (as in, it appears on the side in this comments section of my dashboard). Best email address ever hahaha.

              • That is really true. I used to never, ever re-read books. But, last year, I re-read The Great Gatsby and The Scarlet Letter and fell in love with both of them all over again. It was fantastic. 🙂
                Haha, thanks! My email used to be ScaredOMunchkins…so I have a history of weird emails. 😀

                • I’ve been considering re-reading The Great Gatsby actually, especially with the movie coming out. But then I see all these unread books by F. Scott Fitzgerald on my bookcase and I feel guilty because I should read them first! 😛 Geeze, since when did book-guilt become a serious, overriding emotion? Hahaha.
                  Haha, nice! I guess I have some pretty daggy email addresses lurking around. I like my old uni one that I use for this as it’s just a bunch of numbers basically, so it can’t possibly sound silly. 😛

  6. I read Good Omens about two years ago and I felt the exact same way about it that you described – particularly the expectation to finish within a week or two and it taking months. My sister’s best friend had highly recommended it and gave it to me for my birthday, and I take his opinions to heart because we’re quite similar, but I had the hardest time getting through it too for all the reasons you mentioned.

    I’m glad to hear someone else had a like-minded take on it!

    • Ahhhh isn’t that interesting? Glad to know you felt the same way about it! 🙂
      Interestingly there seems to be quite a few people who have admitted to me since this post that they thought it was a little too hyped up. As I said, it wasn’t a bad book, it just wasn’t as good as I expected it to be!

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