Some books are like taking a duvet day in December with a warm fire burning in the corner. And hot chocolate. Even though I don’t like hot chocolate, the idea of hot chocolate. And in the arms of someone who loves you.
These books are comforting. Warming. Safe.
And so it is with Good Omens, the 1990 collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
This is a re-read for me, which is really unusual, but I had fond memories of it, albeit with only a patchy recollection, and Radio 4 are broadcasting an adaptation over the Christmas period starting on 22nd December. I felt that with the end of a long and difficult term at work, I was in need of the duvet day that this book offered. It is perhaps the literary equivalent of a Christmas Mince Pie: warming, spicy and familiar.
Which is an odd way to describe a book which essentially is about the Apocalypse. The biblical, end-of-days, Book-Of-Revelations Apocalypse.
Gaiman and Pratchett do bounce around numerous points of view but essentially each and every character is hugely likeable, even and perhaps particularly the Anti Christ Himself, Spawn of Satan, Adam Young. We are introduced to the novel’s world by Aziraphile and Crowley, an Angel and Demon respectively, who have spent so much time on Earth and around humanity that they have grown to like the place. And each other. And are therefore rather aggrieved to find that the Apocalypse is imminent. Their attempts to thwart that Apocalypse are wonderfully inept.
Also working to thwart the End Of The World is the intriguingly pragmatic – and deliciously named – Anathema Device: witch, Practical Occultist and aura reader. She is armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the eponymous Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter from whom she is descended, which comes in handy when she loses the actual book.
Ironies abound in the novel – most notably the fact that the most appalling acts committed by humanity are born from human rather than demonic imagination – and the Witch Finder Army, which consists of a mere two members, Sergeant Shadwell and Private Newt Pulsifer, are in the employ of both Aziraphale and Crowley. And the With Finder Army teams up with Anathema Device, witch, as well as Madame Tracy, medium and painted Jezebel.
Amongst various cameos we also meet the Gardener’s World team, the Satanic Nuns of the Chattering Order of St Beryl, the Four Horseman Of The Apocalypse – War, Death, Famine and Pollution (who took over from Pestilence once penicillin was discovered).
It is a rollercoaster of a novel, written with massive flair and fun by two fantastic writers who seem to have just had a whale of a time writing it. Some reviewers have grumbled that they only liked the Pratchett bits or the Gaiman sections – often claiming the same episodes for their championed author. I couldn’t unpick them and didn’t really see the need to try. It was all just a riot!
Oddly, the section that I found I had remembered most clearly was the arrival of Adam’s Hellhound, Satanic Hellhound and Devourer of Souls – complete with glowing red eyes – who is reduced by the will, desire and sheer humanity of His Master to a small and scruffy cat-chasing mongrel. And is named Dog.
Roll on Monday!
With regard to the adaptation, the BBC have announced that the cast includes
Colin Morgan (Merlin, The Fall) as Newton Pulsifer, Josie Lawrence (Skins, EastEnders) as Agnes Nutter and Paterson Joseph (Peep Show, Green Wing) as Famine, as well as a host of delightful cameos, from the Gardeners’ Question Time team to Neil and Terry themselves….
Mark Heap (Spaced, Green Wing, Stardust) and Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians Of The Galaxy, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Shaun Of The Dead) will be taking the central roles as angel and demon, Aziraphale and Crowley, respectively. The star-studded cast will also include Clive Russell (Game Of Thrones, Ripper Street), Julia Deakin (Spaced, Hot Fuzz), Louise Brealey (Sherlock), Simon Jones (Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), Arsher Ali (Four Lions, Complicit, Beaver Falls), Phil Davis (Silk, Whitechapel, Being Human) and Mark Benton (Waterloo Road, Land Girls) to name but a few.