Where to begin? Before I start talking about Good Omens, I feel like a little bit of background is in order to explain why this book has meant so damn much to me. So here goes: I grew overseas in a non-English speaking country, an only child and book worm. Some of my earliest memories are of reading. (I literally cannot remember learning to read, so in a way, reading has always been part of my life.) But for some reason, I was aware early on of a distinction between children’s books and “real” adult books; in other words, I was a book snob almost from the beginning. As a pre-teen, I loved reading books by Alexander Dumas, Jules Verne, Balzac and similar European authors, some of them probably somewhat unsuitable for my age. When my family moved to England and I learned English, I discovered and quickly devoured Agatha Christie’s books (wonderful for ESL beginners), but most of my reading was still devoted to 19th and early 20th century classics.

Then, sometime in my teens, I came across Good Omens. And, guys, it was a revelation. It was smart without pretending to be high-brow, and funny as hell. It had demons, and angels, and witches, and all kinds of other cool characters I’d never come across before. Mostly, it was just a blast. I re-read it more times than I can count, through my teenage years and early twenties, and went on to discover Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s other works, which also became favourites. (I especially love Pratchett’s Discworld witches stories and Thief of Time, and Neil Gaiman’s short stories. His Sandman oeuvre is still one of my fave examples of world-building.) Good Omens is also the reason why I fell in love the likes of Christopher Moore and Jasper Fforde – brilliant, witty writers with wild imaginations. It’s fair to say that Good Omens has been a Big Deal in my reading history.

So let’s talk about the book.

It was published in 1990 (!!!) making it over 25 years old (!!!). I haven’t read it in years, so my first question was: how does it hold up? And the short answer is: very well. I was going to say “surprisingly well”, but who are we kidding: Pratchett and Gaiman were/are visionaries, so there should be no element of surprise here. Admittedly, some references feel a bit dated … but, again, it’s 25 years old! A lot of my references are quite dated these days. Getting old happens to us all. With that said, the book is still fresh, and it certainly hasn’t lost its power to charm – or to make me bust out laughing in the middle of a crowded commuter train.

In fact, I was reminded again of the mystery that is the fact this book has never been adapted for the big or small screen. Think of all the questionable crap that has been made into movies and/or TV shows in the last 20 years – why hasn’t Good Omens made the cut?

Which brings me to my first question for you, fellow book clubbers: how would you fantasy cast Good Omens?

Moving on to some specifics:

What I liked the most
I love Crowley. I think it’s probably fair to say that there is a little bit of Crowley in Archer (the protagonist in my first novel), just as there is probably a little bit of Aziraphale in Bell (the other protagonist in said novel). I loved the relationship between Crowley and Aziraphale. I would read a book about their adventures, for sure. (Um, I’m starting to sense that I owe Good Omens a bigger debt of inspiration that I realized).

I remember loving the 4 Horsemen in the past, but on re-reading, that conceit seemed less novel and striking – probably because I’ve read a lot more fantasy novels in the meantime, so I’m less surprised by the ingenious ideas that people come up with.

I still like the ending, although it feels a bit more “pat” to me now, as an adult, than it did to teenage Adina. But I love the idea of Adam deciding who he wants to be – and there is a little bit of that in Archer too. (What I said earlier? Yeah, thanks again, Terry & Neil!)

Book club question #2: what did you like the most about the book?

Book club question #3: who was your favourite character(s), and why?

What I liked the least

This is not a huge gripe, by any means, but there aren’t many female characters in the book. With that said, the ones that are there, are pretty kick ass. I love Anathema, Agnes Nutter, and Pepper. From past readings, I remember both Anathema and Pepper being really cool and not merely sidekick-y, damsel-in-distress types, and my memory was correct. They’re not front and centre as far as the storyline goes, but they seem to be fully realized characters. Honestly, though, there isn’t much I didn’t like about this book.

Book club question #4: what did you like the least about the book?

I’m going to turn this over to you guys now, and I would love to hear your thoughts about Good Omens. Feel free to respond to the questions above in the comments, if you wish (all or some of them), or simply leave your overall impressions, thoughts, or criticisms.

Finally, it’s time to announce March’s BCRL Book Club selection:

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons!!!!

I wanted something different this month, and Cold Comfort Farm is about 180 degrees from Good Omens, although they both share the distinction of being bloody good. At least, I’m pretty sure. I could have sworn that I read this book in the past, but I’m now thinking that I may have confused it with the movie adaptation. Speaking of which, if you have extra time, definitely try to track the movie down and watch it — it is a sheer delight.

Don’t forget to join me on Thursday, March 24 for another book club discussion.

17 Comments on BCRL Book Club: Good Omens

  1. I was an early reader but had limitations due to conservative / pro-censorship influences. I would love to hear more about your upbringing and the books that defined you early on, pretty much everything you write is fascinating! I’ve also put about a dozen new books on my radar just from reading the intro where you’ve name-dropped several authors I haven’t read. Please start a recommended reading list!

    I also loved the dynamic between Crowley and Aziraphale (and am looking forward to reading Archer & Bell!) and was really entertained as I listened to the audiobook while driving to and from work and roller derby. The storytelling was excellent and the narrator did a great job bringing out the characters with different voices. The baby swap scene with all the winking was a high point, and the narrow escape with the answering machine. I did like the Horsemen. I didn’t think the book felt dated, especially as we were introduced to Famine and I thought to myself, “this sounds all too familiar.”

    Thanks for putting this book on my radar, I’ve been meaning to check out Gaiman for far too long and have just recently discovered the wonder of library audiobooks!

    • Thanks for the idea, Anna — I may do a “favourites” list one of these days. I’ve been toying around with the idea for a while, so this was a good reminder.

    • Hi Anna! I agree about Famine – he sounded like some people I’ve heard recently… I didn’t find the book sounded dated either, aside form idyllic Tadfield, but there’s a reason for that.

      The BBC did a radio play of this too – I listened to the first half and enjoyed it, especially Peter Serafinowicz as Crowley. 🙂

      • Yes, Famine seems alive and well in our diet-obsessed modern world of nutritionally deficient “treats.” I thought Tadfield seemed more comforting and wholesome than dated per se. I think I’ll have to check out the radio play!

  2. Good Omens is such a fun book! I have not revisited it recently (not much time to read for fun these days because half my commute time is spent walking), but I remember it as being hilarious. For all that I enjoyed it so much, I’ve never actually tried reading anything by Terry Pratchett, and I don’t read that many books that are meant to be humorous, so Good Omens was pretty unique for me when I first read it.

    • Terry Pratchett was amazing, and his books are definitely worth a try. I would start with the Weyrd Sisters Discworld books — they are really, really good.

  3. AGH. My feelings about Good Omens are so SO SO. That’s it, that’s as articulate as I get on the subject. HOW IS THERE NOT A MOVIE? How is there not a better audiobook? (As a big fan of audiobooks, I take it as a personal affront that there isn’t a better version of this book to listen to on like, a three times a year basis.)

    Fantasy cast: Dang, I don’t know. The books are explicitly and implicitly coded very anglo-saxon white, and I would love a more diverse cast (Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Anathema? Come on.)

    Favorite character: Anathema. I don’t know what it is about her that makes her the most hilarious, but she is. I would have loved to see more of her home life- what was it like growing up under the weight of the Book and all it’s prophecies? Did she ever try to rebel? Why did she have an ancient bicycle, and not something sleak and top-of-the-line? So many questions!

    I like most that is genuinely funny- and the humor never punches down. I love that it features the cast of misfits who don’t realize they’re working together to save the world. I love the image of THEY on their tiny little kid bikes, furiously peddling toward adventures. I love how clearly drawn it is. I love that there’s never a dull moment. I just love it a lot, OK?

    I don’t love how white it is. Or that 3/4 of the characters are dudes. But given its fantasy genre and the year in which it was written- I’ll let it off pretty easily.

    I am not a fan of Gaiman’s other work (They all skew darker than I like) but this is the best of Pratchett, and they work so well together.

    • You are absolutely right about it being really white. I should have added that as well. I don’t think it was unusual in that way for its era, but given the discussion happening right now in the media, it’s definitely glaring. But I also agree that, if this was finally adapted for the screen, there is NO reason why the cast couldn’t be diverse.

      I did always want Crowley and Aziraphale to have a spin-off book all to themselves, as well as Anathema/Agnes, and They. As a teenager, I totally shipped Adam and Pepper, although I would probably prefer to see them grow up to be kick-ass business partners rather than a couple. Although, I have to say, the way you feel about Anathema is how I feel about Agnes. Like I said, a spin-off about their adventures — across the centuries! — would be amazing.

    • I listened to an audiobook version and loved it -I thought the narrator was animated and entertaining throughout, and loved all the characters’ different voices. I’m curious to know what you disliked. Just wondering!

  4. I think the reason Good Omens hasn’t been adapted to any screen is the religious content. Have you ever read, then seen, The Golden Compass? IIRC, one of the antagonists is the Church (an analog for the Catholic Church), and I don’t remember the Church being mentioned much at all in the film. I think there may have been a portrayal of some clergy members being corrupt in the film as opposed to the entire institution in the books. If I’m remembering this wrong, please correct me! I could be wrong, but that’s my theory.

    I’ll echo Cait above re: the casting – it seems to skew white. That said, I listened to part of the BBC radio play and I looooved Peter Serafinowicz as Crowley – his voice is perfect, and I think he’s the right age. No reason not to get diverse with the rest of the casting. There’s a Scottish-Pakistani actor named Ahmad Riaz who played a similar character to Shadwell (prejudiced and not shy about it) in the 2004 film Ae Fond Kiss, for example.

    What I liked most about the book was probably the sense of humour about the whole pending apocalypse. I liked most of the main characters and even though I know the Four Horsemen aren’t super-original, they felt vivid to me. Though the middle dragged a bit, I liked the first and third sections of the book. I had trouble stopping myself for those 70-odd pages.

    Crowley was probably my favourite. I have a soft spot for loveable assholes. Aziraphale is a close second (I’m even more excited about Archer and Bell now).

    What I liked the least: I feel like we got just enough about each character to be intrigued, but then only nibbles afterward. I got bored near the middle, when I realized I couldn’t expect much more than little snippets from there on out. I wasn’t really fond of Newt or Shadwell – I just found them boring. The “romance” between Newt and Anathema seemed to have been shoehorned in, and I don’t know why. It didn’t seem particularly relevant to the plot, and it didn’t really add anything to the proceedings.

    Overall, I mostly enjoyed the book, but I don’t think I would read it again. After reading this, I do want to read more Pratchett (Gaiman, not so much).

    Thanks for starting this book club, Adina. I’m looking forward to Cold Comfort Farm! If I get really pressed for time I might cheat and just watch the movie. 😉

  5. I’ve read this book many, many times (although not recently! I should remedy that). It’s the book I tend to give if someone demands I give a favourite book – maybe not technically true, but true enough. The humour sits just right for me, and I like it better than either Gaiman or Pratchett on their own (although I enjoy both their novels). It’s been too long for me to remember many details, but my absolute favourite part is the car stereo that plays Queen no matter what cassette you put in: It’s Tchakovsky’s Another One Bites the Dust.

    • I love that part too, although I wonder what the equivalent would be now: radio that always plays Justin Beiber no matter what station you change it to?

      • For me, since no one asked? Definitely 2005, which I call “the summer of Gasolina” because I spent five weeks traveling around Costa Rica and every lunch counter we stopped at was playing the super-popular Daddy Yankee song. Blaring, actually. Reggaeton is its own monotonous form of hell to begin with, and the same song ad nauseam had me wanting to smash the stereo with a baseball bat.

  6. I have to admit, I only got about 2/3rds of the way through this book,but I am an appalling book finisher… it’s not personal. This is my second Neil Gamains book and I do like his writing overall. I was reminded at times of Douglas Adams, the style that describes an event and then abruptly states ‘but not that’.
    The characters seem all odd in lovely ways. In fact, I think that was my overall impression- odd, but with a lovely feel. These are characters that stay with you, doing what they do in their own little world.
    I am really looking forward to the next one Adina !