Good Omens

by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Good Omens CoverHow lucky am I to read books back-to-back that actually made me laugh out loud, first Our Man in Havana, and now Good Omens. I hate to admit, however, that Greene’s classic wasn’t the story that came to mind while reading this one. No, that title goes to something slightly more embarrassing: Fifty Shades of Grey. Before you (fans, presumably) issue me a death sentence over this statement, hear me out. You see, I enjoyed both Fifty Shades and Good Omens right out the gate––for very different reasons––only for each story to get bogged down in the centre, leading way for a spectacular finish, a structure neatly encapsulated by Gandhi in Clone High. The big question then presents itself: How badly does the “boom” hurt the finished novel, all parts taken together? Let’s briefly explore these parts before coming to an answer.

The initial strength of Good Omens’ story can most likely be attributed to a few factors. It has a central plot that seemed like––and turned out to be––good fun: An angel and demon work together to delay or avoid Armageddon, despite both being in charge of seeing it through. This is buttressed by comedy that alternates between witty and silly, and actually happens to be quite funny. Pratchett and Gaiman also showcase some strong characterization, further heightening my enjoyment. (The aforementioned angel and demon were probably my favourite characters, but a special mention should be given to a group of children that spend a lot of their time in the “boom;” when reading the escalating silliness that composes the conversations between the children, you get a sense of authors who actually remember what their childhoods were like.)

Then, I can’t quite put my finger on what went wrong. Perhaps the authors try to do too much with too many characters in too short a time; it’s possible that the transitions between the agents of heaven and hell are too jarring against the mundane goings-on of the children; or maybe it’s that the comedy loses its touch partway in, moving away from snarky, tongue-in-cheek observations to just, well … ridiculous. The “boom” probably hits a low pretty close to the end, where the authors lose all sense of subtlety and, possibly, respect for their readers, deciding to sit us down and carefully explain what lessons we are to take away from their story. (It probably could have had a mature look at some pretty heavy concepts, such as fate versus free will, had this artistic decision not been reached.) Luckily, they back up a bit and end things on a high note, where the strengths of the writing––with regards to the characters, especially––come together to make things feel significant.

It’s hard to really categorize my feelings on Good Omens, when everything is taken together. The good parts are really good, the bad parts don’t hurt the story enough to completely ruin it, and we can’t forget that it did make me laugh out loud. It just feels like it could have been better.