Good Omens-Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

In Book Reviews, fiction on July 26, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Who Knew Armageddon Could Be So Damn Funny?

The blurb on the back cover of Good Omens reads:  “The world will end on Saturday.  Next Saturday.  Just before dinner, according to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies written in 1655.  The armies of Good and Evil are amassing and everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan.  Except that a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.  And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist.”  Witty and funny as all hell, Good Omens is an enjoyable, if not quick, read from the blurb on the back cover to the end of the story.

Gaiman and Pratchett have created a story which is basically an explanation of the end days, but far funnier than they are expected to be.  The two main characters are the angel and the demon.  The fussy angel is a character named Aziraphale, who in the beginning of the book is described as “an angel and part time rare book dealer.”  The fast-living demon is a character named Crowley, described as “an angel who did not so much fall as saunter vaguely downwards.”  These two have known each other for eons, and there is a definite camaraderie between them.  They have almost a Felix and Oscar Odd Couple type of relationship, except they are immortal and don’t live together.   They are what they are, but neither of them really wants The End to come, even though both their superiors are looking forward to it.  Aziraphale, for his part, likes humans and doesn’t want to see them exterminated.  Crowley doesn’t care so much for the humans future so much as his own; he’s having quite a good time on Earth and wants that good time to continue.

In addition to these two there are at least a dozen other characters, some of whom are simply a riot to read about.  The nuns of the Chattering Order of Saint Beryl are hysterical.  They work for Satan, and the patron saint of their order is explained in a footnote (there are many in the book, all of which are of the driest British humor and quite amusing) to have been a young woman named Beryl who was forced to marry a pagan, Prince Casimir in the fifth century.  She prayed to God for help, “vaguely expecting a miraculous beard to appear” for which she had a razor on hand just in case, but God gave her the ability to talk non-stop from that time on.  Beryl was murdered by her husband three weeks into the marriage, still a virgin, no doubt because she wouldn’t shut up or may have simply died as an old woman in bed next to a man with earplugs in.  Whichever was her true end, she was made a saint and the nuns of her order are in charge of the birth of the Antichrist.  But there is a mix up at the hospital they run and the wrong child is sent home as the Antichrist.  Eleven years later, no one seems to know where the real one is.

The human characters are less amusing than the supernatural ones, but isn’t this always the case?  Being on this planet longer seems to make beings more humorous.  Or it could just be that any character written as one who has been around so long is just more apt to be amusing simply because living longer gives one a more philosophical outlook, and that area is a goldmine for humor.  It is with the human characters’ parts that the book occasionally becomes bogged down, but if the reader can make it through those parts, there is a terrific story to be enjoyed.

Gaiman and Pratchett take shots at religion, history, and society in Good Omens, and their shots are dead on.  In slightly under 400 pages, they tackle the end of the world, and their take is incredibly funny.


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