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 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.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I began reading this book. Since Terry Pratchett was one of the authors, I knew I could expect some wonderfully zany metaphors and similes (and I got them. “So the odds against him were higher than a vanful of hippies on a blotterful of Owlsley’s Old Original” is possibly my favorite sentence in the book). I had less idea of what to expect from Neil Gaiman, never having read anything by this author. I know he’s considered a sort of literary rock star, and he wrote “The Doctor’s Wife,” one of my all-time favorite Doctor Who episodes.
Other than that, I was in the dark. I knew that Good Omens merits the label irreverent for essentially playing the end of the world as most Christians expect it for laughs, but didn’t know how far, or what form those laughs would take. I wasn’t sure if I would love this book or hate it, whether its jokes would work, or fall flat.
For me, they worked much better than I would have expected.
What made this book so enjoyable for me as much was that I didn’t feel like the authors took themselves too seriously while writing it. It was obvious with every word I read that Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman had had a lot of fun writing this book. From every insane plot twist to every running gag, it was apparent that the writers had enjoyed their work immensely. And I think when writers really enjoy what they’ve done, that translates into the words themselves. There’s something about the way Good Omens came together that kept making me smile- and in many cases laugh out loud altogether. It was told in a very restrained manner- there’s not a lot of description, but the people themselves jump quite vividly off the page. There’s always a bunch of small details given about each person that contrive to both be funny and enlightening. And there are some brilliant scenes in this book. The one that jumps out to me is the four bikers of the Apocalypse in a bar before they head out to cause the world’s end, but there are several others that are worth reading.
This book has some rather sweet and profound moments, particularly towards the end. There were some thoughts and moments, such as Aziraphale (the ‘somewhat fussy angel’) speculating on whether the botched Apocalypse was all part of Divine Plan to begin with, that made me both smile and think a bit about this aspect of Christianity. Divine plan, or “the Ineffable plan” as Aziraphale calls it, isn’t an easy thing to wrap your mind around even for those who believe. After all, this world is quite a chaotic mess. So how does it all tie in together? What’s the point of all the trivialities and immense difficulties? Do they actually indicate some deeper meaning, or is it all just a jumble?
I’d argue that there is quite a bit of meaning and that all these things do tie together, even if the people involved in these things can’t see the consequences. If anything, this theme is explored quite a bit in Good Omens. The misplacement of the Antichrist that launches the plot of the novel is based on the simple, unforeseen factor of a third child that the characters in the book never knew about. By the end of the story, that small factor has quite a bit of influence on the world. At the climax of the tale, when everyone has finally converged, it’s interesting to see how their choices throughout the story led them there, especially in the context and questions of whether or not there’s a divine plan. But what is made of the book and how it deals with this prospect of divine arrangement is ultimately the reader’s choice. There’s evidence that could support either argument.
From a narrative standpoint Good Omens is a bit frustrating, jumping from various points of the world and various characters without a break. The book has no chapters in it whatsoever, which is a trifle disorienting if you aren’t used to Terry Pratchett’s style of writing (he writes his books without chapters altogether). But it’s never confusing, and on the whole the continuous style makes the story that much more enjoyable. It’s not perfect (what book is?), but there’s quite a lot to like about it, whether it’s the bizarre similes, quirky footnotes, or wondrously written snippets such as this:
“Your fate will be whispered by mothers in dark places to frighten their young,” said Hastur, and then felt that the language of Hell wasn’t up for the job. “You’re going to get taken to the bloody cleaners, pal.”
Terry Pratchett said of this book: “It was done by two guys who didn’t have anything to lose by having fun.” It shows. What you make of it is up to you. If you want a book that will make you laugh a lot, keep you engaged, and maybe- if you’re in the mood for it- make you think, you could do a lot worse than Good Omens.