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.