Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch is a book about two angels, one fallen (Crowley) and one still standing (Aziraphale) and their latest job assignment: Apocalypse. Co-written by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens uses the pre-Apocalyptic circumstances to explore the idea of what it means to be good, evil and, most of all, human.
Both Crowley and Aziraphale have been at their jobs for a long time, and some of the enthusiasm has gone out of doing their masters' biddings. It's not that they don't believe in their respective causes, exactly; it's just that living in the world, all that time, you get kind of attached to what happens when good and evil are allowed out to play together.
Over the years, these two emissaries have even created a weebly-wobbly friendship. In a speech that brought to mind (but predates) Spike's "Happy Meal with legs" soliloquy, Crowley tells Aziraphale his problem with the Bosses' plans: "I like the seas as they are. It doesn't have to happen. You don't have to test everything to destruction just to see if you made it right."
And there is an overwhelming, post-Whoville-sized heart in this novel. This book about apocalypse is as life-affirming as it is amusing. Crowley looks at the world with a rueful kind of affection: he likes humanity, flawed though it is, because humans are always doing something. Simply being human is a creative act.
It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.
This is the heart of the novel. And because of this, there are plenty of opportunities to zig-zag the story between wit and commentary. For instance, these two passages appear on the same page in my edition of the book. The funny:
Newt did not smoke, because he did not allow nicotine or alcohol entry to the temple of his body or, more accurately, the small Welsh Methodist tin tabernacle of his body.
And the wise:
No-one stopped the four as they purposefully made their way into one of the long, low buildings under the forest of radio masts. No-one paid any attention to them. Perhaps they saw nothing at all. Perhaps they saw what their minds were instructed to see, because the human brain is not equipped to see War, Famine, Pollution and Death when they don't want to be seen, and has got so good at it that it often manages not to see them even when they abound on every side.
The balance is perfect throughout. This book is only as fluffy as you want it to be. Me, I kept finding myself thinking about what it means to be human, what our strengths and failings are, and how I stack up on the curve of humanity. (I suspect that the book could be enjoyed quite thoroughly without such navel-gazing, but the fact that it can inspire it somehow makes me respect it a little more. I like books that shed light on what it means to be human.)
In addition to Crowley and Aziraphale, there are other fated players in that appear in the novel, quirky and crazy and oblivious in their own endearing ways. Pratchett and Gaiman succeed in creating funny, sympathetic characters who have the appropriate sweep for a pseudo-Biblical story. As everything hurtled toward the prophesied date, I found myself concerned for the characters, concerned for the fate of the world, even while I was still laughing at the absurdities and witticisms of the story. I was amused, absolutely, but I was also invested in the characters, deeply, and engaged with the plot itself. I wasn't just laughing; I cared about how it was all going to end.
Good Omens is a book about faith, about prejudice, about ignorance and nuance and free will and what it means to be human. Not surprisingly, given the subject matter, it is a book about good and evil, and the order of things. But most of all, it is an infatuated book, a book written by authors who clearly love all the weird and wacky things that the world can offer up, and the way people always seem to respond. It turns out that a humourous book about heaven, hell, and apocalypse is one of the most life-affirming books I have this year. I don't think even Agnes Nutter could have seen that coming.