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livredor
Book: Neverwhere
Wednesday, 15 December 2004 at 09:46 pm
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Author: Neil Gaiman

Details: (c) 1996, 1997, 2000 Neil Gaiman; Pub 2000 Headline Book Publishing; ISBN 0-7472-6668-9

Verdict: Neverwhere is fantastic, in both senses of the word!

Reasons for reading it: It's by Neil Gaiman, how could I resist? And it kept me going while I was travelling back and forth across SE England this week.

How it came into my hands: The ducky little Brittle Bone charity shop just round the corner from my flat, which has recently diversified into books and has some really good ones.

Neverwhere is just exceedingly cool. It's a romp, delightfully adventuresome, but there's also wonderful characterization and not a word out of place. I mean, it's very, very easy to read, and the language comes across as being simple, but manages to be beautiful without being in the least bit pretentious. And it never takes itself too seriously, there's a lot of sly humour to leaven it.

Then there's all this amazingly detailed and imaginative background which is never at intrusive or infodump-ish. I think Neverwhere comes close to succeeding in what Tolkien set out to do: it creates a specifically English mythology, which is very anchored in place and fits plausibly with mundane reality of modern England. And the reason why it comes close, rather than actually getting there, is that it's mainly a London mythology, and London is of course not the whole of England. But I really think I won't see London the same way again, now I've read this.

Parts of Neverwhere are extremely nasty. The villains, Croup and Vandemar, are so much the embodiment of evil that they should be cartoonish, but because everything is so well conveyed and emotionally engaging, it was hard to detach from the descriptions of torture and so on. I know I'm overly sensitive about explicit violence, but I think Neverwhere is quite extreme even without that.

The counter to all this enthusiasm is that I found the ending really disappointing. In some way, Neverwhere seems to be trying to present itself as a Bildungsroman. But really it has too much action to be a story about the personal development of the protagonist, and a denoument consisting of his reevaluating his life priorities is anticlimactic, to say the least. Plus, he gets to have his cake and eat it to an extent I find annoying, especially since the rest of the book pulls off so exquisitely the delicate trick of being scrupulously fair even in a setting where there is a lot of powerful magic.

Despite these quibbles, I'd thoroughly recommend Neverwhere. Especially to rysmiel; apart from anything else, it has a rather marvellous angel.


Moooood: pleasedpleased
Tuuuuune: Tindersticks: Marbles
Discussion: 4 contributions | Contribute something

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rysmiel: words words words
From:rysmiel
Date:December 23rd, 2004 05:04 pm (UTC)
19 hours after journal entry, 01:04 pm (rysmiel's time)
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Oh, I have read it, and quite enjoyed it, though I suspect I may be judging it more harshly than it deserves; I thought it was a lot of fun as a lightweight sort of thing, though I do find the ending inadequately resolved; I think I was expecting something weightier after Sandman, for one thing, and for another, in the category of stories tied into very specific magic and mythos of particular places, it's going up against some heavy competition, I do not think it does London as well as, for example, War for the Oaks does Minneapolis, and to my mind by comparison with King of Morning Queen of Day's take on Ireland, particularly Dublin, Neverwhere feels like Winnie the Pooh. Very hard thing to judge unless you know places well though. I still nourish the ambition of one day doing this for Montreal, even though Jesus de Montreal is doing something from a related angle and I'd go a very long way to not be judged in comparison with that.
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livredor: bookies
From:livredor
Date:December 23rd, 2004 06:03 pm (UTC)
20 hours after journal entry, 06:03 pm (livredor's time)
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Oh, I have read it, and quite enjoyed it
Yay. This means I get to have a proper discussion about it, which I wasn't sure about cos it's something I picked out for myself, and it's not the kind of thing that a lot of my bookish people read.

I thought it was a lot of fun as a lightweight sort of thing
I agree, it is fairly lightweight. I think I wasn't quite clear about that in my review. I intended to put more emphasis on describing it as cool, but couldn't figure out how to make the sentence make sense. I meant, it's the kind of thing that provokes the reaction, hey, this is way cool! rather than, this is life-changing and Serious and Important. But of course, I'm kind of sloppy about the word cool, and often use it in a context where it just expresses general positivity.

I think Neverwhere is extremely good at being what it is without being particularly profound. And I tend to respect light entertainment done well as much as I respect serious art done well. It's not by any means great literature, and I didn't mean to imply that by praising it highly.

I do find the ending inadequately resolved
And how. There were lots of possible endings available to that book, including leaving things ambiguous, and the one that actually exists is just awful. It reminds me a bit of those sequences they used to do after the credits in children's cartoons (possibly these things still exist, but I don't watch so many superhero cartoons any more) where the characters speak to the camera and declare that the moral of the story is that you shouldn't take drugs.

I think I was expecting something weightier after Sandman
OK, not remotely trying to compare Neverwhere to Sandman. In a sense it's about equivalent to a single Sandman story worked up into a novel. (And many of them could reasonably stand that treatment, because there is that much depth to the series.) Actually, in a sense I think there are several connections to Gaheris' Tale of two cities in World's End.

in the category of stories tied into very specific magic and mythos of particular places, it's going up against some heavy competition
I wasn't making quite that general a point, actually. Yes, there are lots of good things that mythologize a place and do it well (though I don't know any of your examples). I was comparing Neverwhere very specifically to Tolkien's goal. Just, Neverwhere is pure fantasy, and the background looks as if it's solid and detailed, but it's also very London, and that's an achievement in my view. I can see why it's something that Tolkien wanted to do; I only mentioned him because he gave me a name for the concept I'm talking about though.

Tolkien in fact wrote something so great that it transcended time and place, it's universal. Tolkien did not really create a mythology for England, because nobody thinks of England when they read LotR. So I'm not precisely comparing Neverwhere to LotR, because that would be a nonsensical comparison also.

Neverwhere feels like Winnie the Pooh
Yes, but Winnie the Pooh is a very, very good book by its own lights. Generations of people love it and the fantasy world it created is one that has become part of collective psyche. Again, it's amusing and entertaining, not great literature, but that doesn't stop it from being brilliant.

Very hard thing to judge unless you know places well though.
I don't know London that well, but I do know it in more or less the same way Gaiman's Richard Mayhew knows it, as an outsider trying to make sense the city in all its vastness and eccentricity and appreciating it while seeing its impossibility as human habitat. I think that's partly why I got on so well with Neverwhere, in fact.
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rysmiel: words words words
From:rysmiel
Date:December 23rd, 2004 10:09 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 06:09 pm (rysmiel's time)
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This means I get to have a proper discussion about it, which I wasn't sure about cos it's something I picked out for myself, and it's not the kind of thing that a lot of my bookish people read.

*grin* Your enthusiasm is really appealing.

I think Neverwhere is extremely good at being what it is without being particularly profound. And I tend to respect light entertainment done well as much as I respect serious art done well.

Agreed; I was just expecting something other than what I found. I think my perception of it is also warped by having seen the BBC version first; an excellent version indeed, but one that seemed more suited to the ways in which that story was light than the textual version.

I do find the ending inadequately resolved
And how. There were lots of possible endings available to that book, including leaving things ambiguous, and the one that actually exists is just awful. It reminds me a bit of those sequences they used to do after the credits in children's cartoons (possibly these things still exist, but I don't watch so many superhero cartoons any more) where the characters speak to the camera and declare that the moral of the story is that you shouldn't take drugs.


"Remember kids, Superman can fly, but you can't. Not unless you drink an awful lot of Tia Maria... "

I wouldn't go quite that far, but to my mind it had ugly great sequel hook written all over it.

In a sense it's about equivalent to a single Sandman story worked up into a novel. (And many of them could reasonably stand that treatment, because there is that much depth to the series.)

I think there are a couple - one coming most strongly to mind now is the Midsummer Night's Dream one - that would have worked a deal better than it, actually.

Actually, in a sense I think there are several connections to Gaheris' Tale of two cities in World's End.

interesting thought; my copy of World's End is in Ireland but I must at some point look at it again with that in mind.

in the category of stories tied into very specific magic and mythos of particular places, it's going up against some heavy competition
I wasn't making quite that general a point, actually. Yes, there are lots of good things that mythologize a place and do it well (though I don't know any of your examples).


Note heretofore taken for presents to send to you in future.

Neverwhere feels like Winnie the Pooh
Yes, but Winnie the Pooh is a very, very good book by its own lights. Generations of people love it and the fantasy world it created is one that has become part of collective psyche. Again, it's amusing and entertaining, not great literature, but that doesn't stop it from being brilliant.


Agreed entirely, and I didn't mean that as a dismissal.

as an outsider trying to make sense the city in all its vastness and eccentricity and appreciating it while seeing its impossibility as human habitat.

I don't actually think of London as impossible as human habitat by any means; but there are a real dearth of great books that convey love of The Cirty in ways that resonate with how I feel it.
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livredor: letters
From:livredor
Date:December 26th, 2004 10:13 pm (UTC)
4 days after journal entry, 10:13 pm (livredor's time)
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"Remember kids, Superman can fly, but you can't. Not unless you drink an awful lot of Tia Maria... "
Does your putting that in quotes indicate that it's not yours originally? Either way, it's a lovely parody.

to my mind it had ugly great sequel hook written all over it.
Mm. Well, I suppose if there's going to be a sequel that very marginally makes up for the weak ending. But I do tend to disapprove of that sort of thing.

I don't actually think of London as impossible as human habitat by any means;
You're probably rather more of a city person than I. I love visiting London, but the idea of living there I find horrifying. I can imagine myself living reasonably contentedly in a city such as, say, Paris or Melbourne, or Manchester or Glasgow, (though out of preference I'd still choose a medium-sized town), but really not London.

love of The Cirty in ways that resonate with how I feel it.
Tell me about loving London? Have you lived there, in fact? (Not that you can't hold this opinion without having experienced it directly, I'm just curious.)
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