Monday, May 21, 2012

Once Upon a Time ... Neverwhere Discussion

Being in an online book discussion is a first, here. It’s been rather odd to force oneself to read only so far along in a book that has already caught my imagination. Gaiman’s parallel world of London Below is just such a strange and dangerous place …

From the moment I read of the little old lady taking Richard’s hand and telling his fortune in the rainy street outside the Scottish pub with its cryptic dialogue and nice bit of foreshadowing, London has seemed this sinister place that’s drawing poor Richard Mayhew … What does she mean about doors and why must he watch out for the doors? And then Door falls in front of Richard on a sidewalk and his life is forever changed. What does her appearance mean for Richard? Is he part of a bigger story than getting a job, moving to London, making a name for himself in Securites, finding a beautiful and driven fiancée, et cetera? What’s this strange otherworld all about?

So many questions and Gaiman is drawing me (us) further into the story. Now, Chip has asked us more questions. So … to the questions!

  1. What do you think of our two villains thus far, Messers. Croup and  Vandemar?

What a perfect pair of evil hounds are Croup and Vandemar … for that is what they remind me, two hunting hounds all properly tricked out, sniffing and snuffling their way through London Below and Above on the trail of our mysterious bedraggled Door and anything or anyone close to her. Richard Mayhew is reminded of a fox and a wolf when C&V push their way into his life, an apt comparison, too. They are indeed, on the hunt and that makes them all the more dangerous, but what’s really scary is that we just don’t know the full extent of it yet … and that’s all the more frightening and titillating. I’m intrigued by these two, but I wouldn’t want to run into them in a dark alley or anywhere else in my life here in New Hampshire Above!

  1. 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, the space that lies within or somewhat overlaps the space ‘the real world’ occupies?

My initial  reaction is to look at all the inhabitants as and places as reflections of what’s out there on the streets of any real city … the underlife, as one says, that skim by busy work-a-day people as they hurry to and fro in the city. There are the rats and the buskers and the drunks and the drug dealers and the smarmy cons and the quiet ‘do-gooders’ … and there are the unkempt alleys and dark dives with doors that hang partially open and the smelly ‘publicways’ that are crammed with garbage cans and the detritus that the wind deposits … and and and. All this seems distilled by Gaiman in London Below.

  1. What ideas and themes are you seeing in these first five chapters of Neverwhere? Are there any that you are particularly drawn to?

My intial thoughts are drawn to the old adage “No good deed goes unpunished.”  Richard’s life is forever changed because he stopped in his busy life and helped a stranger. It remains to be seen whether he will regain his comfy and predictable lifetrack with Jessica and the job in Securities. Another idea that has rattled around in my mind is the concept of one’s life being lived for a specific (or higher) purpose that is oftentimes not clear to us. I wonder if the doors that the old woman warns Richard of are pre-destined to be opened and entered … that the good and the evil that happens is balanced in such a way as to keep the world balanced … weird, I know, but it is what I’m thinking as I read further into this book.  That leads me to thinking about characters and how they are balanced thus far.

  1. We’ve met a number of secondary characters in the novel, who has grabbed your attention and why?

The marquis de Carabas is a bossy Goth-type in my eyes, bold and no-nonsense, pragmatic and practical in meeting challenges, someone with a limited conscience and a wicked streak. I’m looking forward to learning more about his motivations and perhaps his backstory. Obviously, Hunter is intriguing. Any woman that can kick ass as efficiently as she, is a noteworthy character. For sheer likeability, though, Old Bailey is a hoot. Love his jovial way of hawking his junk and helping Richard out by swapping an old hankie for crucial information.

What’s more interesting to me is the measured way that Neil Gaiman reveals information about his characters and I find myself wondering how he developed their personalities and the overall culture of London Below …

" There was something deeply tribal about the people, Richard decided. He tried to pick out distinct groups: there were the ones that looked like they had escaped from a historical reenactment society; the ones who reminded him of hippies; the albino people in grey clothes and dark glasses; the polished dangerous ones in smart suits and black gloves; the huge, almost identical women that walked together in twos and threes, and nodded when they saw each other; the tangle-haired ones who looked like they probably lived in sewers and smelled like Hell; and a hundred other types and kinds …"          - page 74 - at the Floating Market.

What an incredible imagination he has to conjure this vision of the peoples of London Below. The description opens a floodgate in the reader, don’t you think?

  1. 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?

Answering this question demands that I link myself to Richard’s predicament.  He’s stuck in London Below, as his life in London Above seems to have dissolved into the ether. So, he must prepare himself for survival in this brutal and strange world. As I am a practical person, my immediate needs would have to be met … food that is palatable (no stewed tomcat for me!), a form of clothing that would allow me to meld with the masses a bit more, and a good knife and flashlight … being defenseless in the dark is not my cup of tea … all these would be on my shopping list, so I’d be swapping out my London Above duds and anything in my pockets for these more practical things. I’d also be casing the Market for people that might be good sources of information and trustworthy souls that might help me along the way and with whom I might be able to live and work to survive. The practical side of me would be readying my psyche for the possibility that London Above is gone forever.

Chapters Six and on can’t come too fast! The Floating Market is interesting and all, but finding an angel looms and that should be even more mind-bending! I am constantly being amazed and drawn along by this book. Neil Gaiman has such an incredible way of opening his world of London Below in small parcels that hook me and have me constantly asking questions and wondering whether I step out bravely, or curl up in a fearful ball and wait for death or scurry into the dark and become just another rat in a maze.


  1. Hunter was my favorite character thus far. She reminds me of a comic book superhero. I thought it was hilarious that Richard thought she was a prostitute.

    1. Well, she did say she rented her body, right? haha! Yeah, she's just so regal in a way. I found myself wondering who would play her in a kickass film version of the book ... and came up with Uma Thurman.

  2. I don't think Richard has quite arrived at the point that he's thinking about swapping out the pieces of his old life for things in the new one. I think he expected going to the Market and finding Door would be an easy fix to his situation. I don't think he expected to have to go on a quest in order to possibly get his life back.

    Glad you're part of the read-along!

  3. Even though I've read it before, I found myself thinking, poor Richard, they can't just go off and leave him. There's clearly not a lot of room for kindness in London Below, even though Door has been saved by Richard's. Which makes you wonder about Master Longtail's motive in sending Richard to Door - are the rats moved by kindness, or do they think that Richard still has a part to play? or what?

  4. Hi Susan. :)
    A flashlight!!! Now that's a worthy find at the Floating Market!

  5. Knife, flashlight, clothes. Check. I am ready to tour London Below. I like your practical take on shopping at the Floating Market. Everything there was an exchange - no cash. I wonder what someone would take in exchange for those simple things? I could give up pager and cell phone easily. Ha!

  6. Love the font on your blog! :)

    Great description of London Below, I agree with you that Gaiman was able to mix all that in, and more, to create world just one notch pass normal. Or perhaps London Below IS the normal world. It certainly appears to be the more interesting one.

    I like your idea about the balance and I think that is very present in this story. I certainly believe the old woman's warning is a predication and that Richard perhaps should have been wary of doors. But which doors, the ones he was already familiar with in a life that seemed to be leading to dull misery or the one that dropped in his lap. Well, almost.

    I'm glad you are being drawn into the story and that you are enjoying it. Every time I read it I see something different and get something different out of it. Reading it with this group makes it really intriguing as I am seeing things through so many different eyes.

  7. I love your point that London Below, could actually be the normal everyday scenes in London in real life. Many of us are so accustomed to looking away that we don't want to see all the dirty details of city life. I had a hard time choosing just one character for my answers. He has a whole cast of original, witty, and fun characters and I'm looking forward to getting to know them more in the next section.

    I dig the look of your blog :)

  8. I've never participated in an online read along, either, and I had a hard time putting the book down after chapter five. Then again, I never could stop mid-book when I was reading something for school, either!

    I love the character of Old Bailey, too :)