While I was aware of Neil Gaiman before the publication of Neverwhere, it was Neverwhere that turned me into a fan. I picked up a copy of the book when it was first published in paperback a couple of years ago and was utterly absorbed by it.
At the time, I didn’t know Neverwhere was similar to another favorite work of mine, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Hitcherhiker’s started out as a radio show before Adams adapted it to the printed page. Neverwhere was a six-episode BBC serial before Gaiman adapted it in print form. Ironically, my vast knowledge of Doctor Who won me a copy of Neverwhere many, many moons ago in my only DragonCon attendance.*
*I keep wanting and meaning to go back, but that weekend is usually the kick-off of college football. And I love college football and am so eager to kick back and watch hours and hours of it that first weekend that I find it hard to tear myself away to enjoy catching up with fellow fans of the genre.
I’ve re-read Neverwhere a couple of times since that first reading and I’ve always enjoyed it. And it’s been a while since I viewed the television version, though my biggest impression walking away was you could almost hear Gaiman saying, “I’ll improve this a lot more when the only budget limitation is my reader’s imagination.” Not that the series is terrible mind you. In fact, I plan to revisit it at some point this summer (probably once this read-along is concluded).
All of that is a long-winded way of introducing the latest read-along I’m joining. Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a Neverwhere read-along. Today’s read-along covers the Prologue through Chapter Five in the book. If you’ve not read the novel, there will be SPOILERs ahead. And if you haven’t, it’s one I highly recommend. It’s not the best Gaiman, but it’s a sentimental favorite for me.
1. What do you think of our two villains thus far, Messrs. Croup and Vandemar?
One of the things I recall most about my first viewing of the Neverwhere mini-series is how completely and utterly at odds the actors playing these characters meshed with the mental picture I had of them from the novel. Part of it was that when I read the novel, I pictured Ian Reddington as one of the two characters. Reddington memorably played the creepy and evil Chief Clown in Doctor Who’s “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.” I could see Reddington (sans the clown make-up) as one of these two because the Chief Clown had this superb combination of something friendly and fun with the sinister side. And that’s kind of how I see these two in my mind–they look innocent enough of the surface, but just below that, there’s pure evil and malice. It would be the way they walked or a certain gleam in their eye that made you feel both comfortable and get the willies all at the same time.
2. Thus far we’ve had a small taste of London Below and of the people who inhabit it. What do you think of this world, this space that lies within or somewhat overlaps the space the “real world” occupies?
Well, it would certainly explain where all those lost socks from the dryer went! Re-reading Neverwhere and the description of London Below, I was reminded a bit of China Mievelle’s The City and The City with two cities that exist on top of each other, but are separate. Occasionally, the two overlap in an obvious way, though in The City and the City, characters have to train themselves not to see the other dimension.
I find the concept of an under-city where the lost go to get even more lost a compelling one. And, so far, Gaiman has made this place sound pretty unnerving. We have our villains, of course. But there’s also the story of Anaesthesia who gets lost on the bridge to the Floating Market. That short section of the stuff of nightmares haunting Richard and then finding out she was lost in them forever was one of the most unnerving sections of the novel.
3. What ideas or themes are you seeing in these first 5 chapters of Neverwhere? Are there any that you are particularly drawn to?
I sort of delved into this above with the thoughts on the bridge crossing and how the nightmares there try to steal you from making the final crossing. The idea of absolute dark is a terrifying one. It reminds me that while we have darkness in our modern age, it’s never really DARK. There’s always some ambient light around that we eventually adjust to. I’ve spent the night in a cave as part of a tour and I can tell you that’s absolute dark. And the idea of that surrounding you and then having images from your nightmares and fears come out to haunt you. Unnerving.
4. We’ve met a number of secondary characters in the novel, who has grabbed your attention and why?
I guess I’d have to say Anaesthesia, if only because of her untimely fate. I also really like Lord Rat-speaker.
5. As you consider the Floating Market, what kind of things does your imagination conjure up? What would you hope to find, or what would you be looking for, at the Market?
The first time it’s mentioned, I visualized a market in the clouds as opposed to a market that moves location. Ah, the power of language and the meanings of words.
It almost sounds a bit like the local, monthly flea market close to where I live–a fascinating hodge-podge of items you’d once had and forgotten about and those you didn’t know you needed until you stumbled across them. One thing that always strikes me about the flea market is that there are some people who have such a collection of random treasures that you wonder–who in the world would collect all this junk? Until I then realize that a lot of it comes from estate sales and someday when I pass on, my family will sell my stuff to someone similar and another person will wonder why anyone would collect all this random stuff.
And going to the flea market is like going to a used bookstore. You have to be open to seeing possibilities and not having expectations (or having them be too specific). If I go looking for a copy of a certain book and only that one book, odds are it won’t be there. But if I’ve got a list of several or an author I want to try, odds are probably more in my favor of coming home happy. That feeling strikes me about the Floating Market. If you go looking for a specific item or service with a list of requirements, odds are you won’t find it. For example, Richard goes hoping to find that his situation of having been erased from the world can be easily reversed if he finds Door again. That turns out not to be the case and instead he has to now go on a quest to possibly find a way of getting back to the life he knew.
6. If you haven’t already answered it in the questions above, what are your overall impressions of the book to this point?
It’s one of my favorite novels by Gaiman. I think American Gods is, overall, a much better book, but somehow I’m far more likely to re-read Neverwhere or Stardust than I am American Gods.