Reading group: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is our book for January

Starting the year with some much-needed mirth, this collaborative novel promises much wisecracking fun in a race to stop the apocalypse

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman has come out of the hat and will be the book to bring us a smile this month on the reading group.

This is good timing. Reading the novel now will prime us nicely for the starry TV adaptation later this year. It will also help us cope: as Gaiman has noted, “global idiocy” is currently a hot topic – and while the 1990 novel doesn’t necessarily provide solutions, it might at least help us laugh at the absurdity of our current situation.

But even the worst predictions for 2019 don’t quite match up to the events in Good Omens. You can glean something of its nature from that fact that it began life as a spoof of Richmal Crompton’s Just William books under the provisional (and wonderful) title William the Antichrist. In Good Omens, the End Times are coming, but – thanks to a mix-up in a maternity ward – the antichrist lives in small-town Oxfordshire. He’s an ordinary boy (give or take a few useful magical powers) and hasn’t yet realised what fate has in store for him, resulting in a few surprises for everyone, including the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, who team up to stop the apocalypse and save Earth.

David Tennant as Crowley and Michael Sheen as Aziraphale in the upcoming Good Omens.
David Tennant as Crowley and Michael Sheen as Aziraphale in the forthcoming adaptation of Good Omens. Photograph: BBC Studios/Amazon

As I remember it, the rest of the book lives up to this fantastic premise and then some. That said, I should also admit that I last read Good Omens soon after publication in the early 1990s, when the following one-liner didn’t need a footnote: “All tapes left in a car for more than about a fortnight metamorphose into Best of Queen albums.”

Not that necessity was a concern of the authors when they wrote their footnotes. One of the joys of the book that I do clearly recall is digging into the variously illuminating, digressive and absolutely ridiculous notes with which Pratchett and Gaiman adorned their story.

There’s plenty to talk about in Good Omens – so much, in fact, that someone has gone to the trouble of setting up an online lexicon to accompany the book. (If you want to know more about Crowley’s houseplants, fill your boots here.) I’m looking forward to a fruitful month of discussion, taking in everything from literary collaboration to humanism, the difficulties of getting around the M25 and nuclear war. And there will be jokes. Lots of jokes.

I hope you’ll join me. By way of encouragement – and thanks to Gollancz we have five copies of Good Omens to give to the first five people from the UK to post “I want a copy please”, along with a nice, constructive suggestion in the comments section below. If you’re lucky enough to be one of the first to comment, email the lovely folk on culture.admin@theguardian.com, with your address and your account username – we can’t track you down ourselves. Be nice to them, too.

Contributor

Sam Jordison

The GuardianTramp

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