Sometimes by book club agrees on two books, a main one and one for extra credit if we have time. As our May book was The Night Watch in honour of Terry Pratchett we decided to double up and also add Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch which he wrote with Neil Gaiman who is also a very famous fantasy author. This novel was written when Pratchett was only mildly famous and Gaiman wasn’t famous at all. Apparently they became great friends after Gaiman interviewed Pratchett and ended up writing the novel while excitedly shouting down the phone to each other.
But what is it all about?
In the small town of Lower Tadfield, the apocalypse is about to kick off. On the side of good stands angel, Aziraphale – the original guardian of the Garden of Eden and on the side of not so good the demon, Crowley. What their superiors don’t seem to have noticed is that the two are actually rather good friends and often take credit for the same “projects”. Both of them are supposed to be keeping an eye on the person in the centre of all of it – Adam Young, an eleven year old boy who has no idea he is the Antichrist and has been somewhat misplaced by a ditzy Satanic nun. Then there’s Anathema Device a descendant of Agnes Nutter a witch who wrote a book of predictions simultaneously so accurate and confusing that it didn’t sell a single copy, and she’s convinced she can stop it all if she can just make sense of Agnes’ book.
Really Good Omens isn’t about the apocalypse or the battle between good and evil at all. It’s actually a rather clever critique about the very concepts of good and evil as well as the very black and white definitions that religion attempts to feed us. This is very evident in the projects that Aziraphale and Crowley undertake and take credit for. They both clam Milton Keynes as a success – Aziraphale because it’s supposedly so well designed and Crowley because apparently the roundabouts are a nightmare. It’s also interesting how little they actually have to interfere since human nature is so essentially one of duality that we’re better at doing very good and very evil things than any angel or demon could influence us into.
The other key concept in Good Omens is the idea of focusing on living life rather than imagining some greater afterlife. Aziraphale, Crowley and Adam (and Adam’s dog) are all enamoured with what being human has to offer and none of them are particularly keen on the actual apocalypse even though that is what their entire existence seems to have been designed for.
Well that’s what I read into it anyway. If you want to enjoy the book as just a clever and comedic novel about the mechanics and complexities of the end of the world and the forces involved I certainly won’t stop you.
As for the book itself, the characters are all interesting and well-written and I kept kind of hoping that Aziraphale and Crowley were going to get it on even though they actually didn’t have any genitalia. For the most part I found it very amusing and extraordinarily well thought out. However, about three quarters of the way in I got a little bit tired of it. It’s all so terribly clever and so terribly witty that it’s a kind of exhausting and I just wanted them to get on with it. I also found Adam kind of annoying. I know I am in the vast minority here since this is more or less a universally loved book and I genuinely did really enjoy it… I just could have done with slightly less of it.
If you’re a fan of either Gaiman or Pratchett or both or just a deep thinker on concepts of morality you are very likely to enjoy this book and you should definitely check it out just maybe don’t read it as fast as I did.