Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Having read several Terry Pratchett novels before I had a fairly reasonable idea of what I was getting myself into with Good Omens. I expected quirky humour, strange events, and unique and peculiar characters, along with the usual assortment of magic and bathos and hilariously terrible puns. I’m happy to say that Good Omens has all of these, as well as something that many other earlier Pratchett novels lack: coherence. I’m assuming this is the influence of Neil Gaiman, as is the inclusion of many of the more dark and gruesome elements of the story. All in all, a nicely successful combination of authors, styles and ideas.
The plot is fairly straightforward. The prophecies of the witch Agnes Nutter state when and where the world is going to end. The Antichrist will summon the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who will ride forth and wreak havoc on humankind; this will be followed by a celestial war between Heaven and Hell, of which there can only be one ultimate victor.
That’s what is supposed to happen; but the ineffable Plan suffers from a few alterations along the way. For a start, due to a mix-up in the local hospital eleven years previously, the Antichrist is not who people think he is; and due to the incompetence of the demon Crowley (who drives a Bentley, wears sunglasses even when it’s dark, and just happens to be the original Serpent, formerly known as Crawly) and the angel Aziraphale (who had a flaming sword but lost it, and now owns a used bookstore in London) this is not discovered by either side until Armageddon is almost upon them. What follows is the tale of various characters – Aziraphale, Crowley, the witch Anathema Device, the Witchfinders Shadwell and Newt, Adam the Antichrist, and Madame Tracy the Psychic/’shameless hoor’ – as they all try to prevent the end of the world.
It’s a good story, and one of the highlights is the casual bickering friendship between the demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale. They both recognise that neither of them are entirely good or evil, and after thousands of years have struck up a truce. They like the way things are, and as such are keen to try and save the world and maintain the natural balance of things.
The authors, as well as writing a funny story, are also trying to get a message across about humanity, namely that they are capable of much worse things than any sort of evil demon, whether real or imagined, but also of moments of goodness that would make any angel jealous. For instance, Crowley receives a commendation for the creation of the Spanish Inquisition (he happened to be on the continent at the time, and so they just assumed it was his idea), when in fact he knew nothing about it: when he looked into it, it made him feel rather ill (he’s much more proud of creating the M25, door-to-door salesmen, and answering machines).
I personally love the sense of humour – it’s typical Pratchett, dry British humour, and there are so many jokes and references that only a Brit would really understand. It’s fun to feel like you’re sharing a private joke with the author, though I imagine this may alienate readers from other parts of the world. I did enjoy the few aspects of the book that I recognised from Pratchett’s Discworld novels. An example of this is the character of Death and the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse, although they’re a bit different here: they ride motorbikes instead of horses (well, they are the original Hell’s Angels after all), and they have a new member, Pollution (Pestilence retired shortly after the discovery of penicillin in 1936).
The book does have a few flaws. Like many other Pratchett novels I’ve read it can be a little self-indulgent in places, sacrificing plot and relevance for humorous anecdotes that occasionally take over the story. However, it made me laugh – sometimes out loud, to the astonishment of those around me (luckily just the cats) – and it also made me want to read more books by both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, so I think it deserves a decent score.