Literary Liaisons, On the Shelf

On The Shelf- Good Omens

With a new, live-action adaptation premiering this week, I thought it was a good time to dust off my copy of Good Omens and give it another read. Then I realized I loaned out my copy some time ago and never got it back. Luckily, I travel a good deal and the book is currently a ubiquitous feature of airport newsstands. For those of you not already familiar with Good Omens, the novel is a product of a partnership between Neil Gaiman and the late, great Terry Pratchett. A satirical take on the End Times, the novel follows the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley as they attempt to locate the mislaid Antichrist and avert the apocalypse.

Perhaps what is most unique about Good Omens lies not in its content but in its conception. While it is not uncommon for two authors to be credited on a book, this is most often the result of a literary neophyte with a good idea pairing with a steady hand with proven writing chops. In Good Omens we get a true partnership between two of the greatest Fantasy writers of all-time. It’s a rare treat, made possible by a friendship forged before the two had achieved international acclaim. The book began as an idea Gaiman had about William the Antichrist (a parody of the famous Just William stories). He wrote the first five thousand words and found himself stuck. Unsure of how to end the story he sent it out to a few friends and forgot about it.  A year later, Pratchett phoned him up and said he knew what came next. The two worked together on the project, literally mailing floppy disks back and forth to one another (it was 1989 after all). The result was Good Omens, one of the great classics of modern fantasy.

But here I am repeatedly asserting the greatness of Good Omens without offering up any real reason why it should be considered as such. And the truth is the book is not possessed of any of the normal markers of a literary classic. It is not a sophisticated allegory. Its characters are not possessed of any special traits or depth that set them apart. The story, while unique, is not so profoundly different as to warrant special commentary. No, Good Omens has exactly one thing going for it, it is clever. Hilariously, uproariously clever.  Its sharp, insightful wit is on full display in every line and footnote. It is the rare book that will have you laughing out loud from beginning to end.

That’s not to say that the book is perfect. All the asides and footnotes and tangential escapades have a tendency to slow down its forward momentum. This may be less noticeable to a reader who reads in smaller bits, say thirty to forty pages at a time, than someone like me who might read a novel like this in a single sitting. If you are like me, go into it with the knowledge that there will be a great many tangents from the main plot and its best just to relax and enjoy them rather than trying to rush through in an attempt to devour everything in a single go.

Despite that one extremely nitpicky observation, Good Omens stands as one of my favorite novels and one of the standout works of modern fantasy filled with humor, charm, and wit. Before you watch the new TV adaptation do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. Because Good Omens is absolutely deserving of a spot On The Shelf.

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