For the final week of the Neverwhere group read, Carl has decided to ask readers for our free-form thoughts on the book and its conclusion rather than a series of questions and answers.
As I’ve said before, I was aware of who Neil Gaiman was before I stumbled across a paperback copy of Neverwhere many years ago. Friends had recommended his Sandman comics to me and he wrote a couple of episodes for the final season of Babylon Five. And while I hadn’t read Sandman yet (the price point of entry was a bit high for me and my local library wasn’t circulating graphic novels at the time. This has since changed and I’ve got Sandman on my list of things I need to read the entire run of before I shuffle off this mortal coil), it was Neverwhere that provided me with a more affordable and accessible entry point into the world of Gaiman’s writing. So for that alone, I’m grateful because it’s Neverwhere that introduced me to one of my favorite authors.
As I said in last week’s read-along, one of the things I love about Gaiman (and Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Stephen King, Joss Whedon etc.) is the way in which he makes language come together. Gaiman has this way of finding the exact right combination of words to describe something the realities and unrealities of the universes he creates. Again, it’s one of those things that looks so easy when you’re reading it and just allowing the words to wash over you but is actually really hard to emulate. I think it’s one reason that Adams’ books took so long for him to write and why Gaiman isn’t necessarily churning out a book or more a year like some writers do these days.* I’d love to include some favorite quotes here, but that would likely end up being huge passages or essentially the entire novel. Instead, I recommend you just go out and read it for yourself!
*I’m not saying you can’t produce more than a novel a year and have it be good. For example, Michael Connelly publishes at least two, if not three novels a year and, for the most part, they’re all good. On the other end, you’ve got James Patterson whose books are pretty much a formula. Seeing them, I’m always reminded of an old episode of The Avengers where Steed and Mrs. Peel are investigating a romance writer. At one point, you see that the author doesn’t really write the new books anymore but puts punch card with various plot elements into a computer and out churns a new book. I often think this is exactly how Patterson does it!
And while I love the way Gaiman uses words, it wouldn’t mean much if he didn’t have characters we care about. In many ways, Neverwhere feels like a fairy tale-at least as they were originally written and intended. A lot of dark and terrible things happen to various characters during the course of this novel. And yet, in the end, there’s still good guys, bad guys and those caught in between.
Of course, we root for Richard and Door and we cheer against Croup and Vandemeer (who come across as much creepier on the printed page than they do in the BBC mini-series).
But along the way, we meet a lot of other characters who aren’t necessarily classically good or bad. There’s the Marquis, who betrays Door, but we understand he has some very good reasons for doing so. We have a lot of flawed characters who are motivated by their own self-interest and who would, quite likely, consider themselves the heroes of the story. I still find the death of Anaesthesia one of the most unnerving deaths in the novel and many of the books I’ve read. The idea of being caught up in unrelenting darkness and forced to face your fears possibly for the rest of your life without end….just un-nerving.
And while Anaesthesia is only in the novel for a few pages, Gaiman makes us care enough about her that we (at least me) are moved by her death and her fate .
Of course, each time I read the book, I’m reminded that the Jim Henson Company, once upon a time, had the movie rights to this novel. Given what they did with Farscape, I’d love to see how a larger budget adaptation of the book would work. I realize there would have to be cuts, trims, etc. but I still think this is a novel that could be wonderfully realized on the silver screen. And it might just bring some new Gaiman fans into the fold.