This could be a very short review – essentially, I absolutely love this book and everyone should read it – but I thought I’d attempt to prepare for the forthcoming series by re-reading it for the millionth time and then listing my very favourite bits. If I were to do just that, I’d end up listing every single moment, and so, partly because the day job is calling, I’ve restricted myself to just ten. It’s going to be tough.
So, in no particular order …
1. The Chattering Order of St Beryl. I don’t know how Pratchett and Gaiman decided on who wrote which bit, but a satanic order of nuns feels like pure Pratchett. At the start of the novel the newly-born antichrist is swapped in the delivery room at St Beryls – it’s all part of the plan at this stage – but he is swapped with the wrong child. Instead of heading off to America with his diplomat father, the antichrist, now named Adam, goes home with Mr and Mrs Young to grow up unsupervised by dark forces in the unremarkable Lower Tadfield.
2. The ineffable Great Plan. Because if you believe in Heaven’n’Hell, there has to be a grand plan behind it all, surely?
3. Crowley. Everything about Crowley is sharply amusing – demons often have the best lines – but I particularly like his relationship with his car, a 1926 black Bentley. Crowley’s been around from the beginning and has, in the words of another demon, ‘gone native’ – he’s enjoying the trappings of the Twentieth Century a lot and, it transpires, has also developed a regrettable fondness for people in general. The genius of this book is that both he and his angelic counterpart, Aziraphale, are very human in their foibles. Crowley’s proud of his car, likes good suits and eats in expensive restaurants. The one irritation in his life seems to be what happens to his cassettes if left too long in the glove box.
4. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They assume human features (well, three do) and live amongst us, waiting for the International Express man to bring them a sign that the antichrist is ready for them to play their parts. In one of the many brilliant little touches, we’re told that Pollution had ‘taken over when Pestilence, muttering about penicillin, had retired in 1936.’
5. Dog. This is a hell-hound sent by the dark forces to protect and serve the antichrist on his eleventh birthday. But when he finds Adam, he also finds himself becoming the sort of dog his new master really wants. He spends the rest of the novel struggling against the instinct to chase rabbits.
6. The environmental stuff. Reading this now, 29 years after it was first published, came as something of a surprise – it had been there all along but I hadn’t taken as much notice of it. On his way to Tadfield, Newt Pulsifer (Witchfinder Private) is stopped by two alien-shaped policemen in their spaceship (obviously). Having given Newt the standard notice about the condition of his planet, ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you, sir, that your polar icecaps are below regulation size for a planet of this category, sir’, they go on to warn him that ‘You do know you could find yourself charged with being a dominant species while under the influence of impulse-driven consumerism, don’t you?’ Yup.
7. Anathema Device. The descendent of Agnes Nutter, Prophetess, Anathema is waiting to take her place in events as the world comes to an end. It’s all written down in the Book, the one written centuries ago by Agnes. Anathema is a modern young woman, who ‘because she was a witch, and therefore sensible, she put little faith in protective amulets and spells; she saved it all for a foot-long bread knife which she kept in her belt.’ Her ancestor would very much have approved.
8. Lines like ‘I think,’ said Aziraphale, sipping his wine (which had just ceased to be a slightly vinegary Beaujolais, and had become a quite acceptable, but rather surprised, Chateau Lafitte 1875), ‘I think I’ll see you there.’ This book is brilliantly funny and very clever, all at the same time.
9. The footnotes. Pratchett made wonderful use of the illuminating and brilliantly witty footnote in his Discworld series. Here the device is given full rein to add extra flavour. Some are very short – see the note to Americans and other aliens about the nature of Milton Keynes – and some spin off into wonderful side scenes, as in the case with the description of the Buggr All This Bible on page 51. Gaiman and Pratchett appear to have had a lot of fun with this book.
10. Death. He’s here, and he speaks in capital letters.
So, there you have it. I could have added another hundred – the Metatron, the bit from Gardeners’ Question Time, Madame Tracy ‘(Painted Jezebel [mornings only, Thursdays by arrangement] and Medium)’, to list three.
I’m really looking forward to the series – albeit with that slight fear that it can’t possibly be as good as the book – and I’d love to know what your favourite moments are.