When I signed on to read Neil Gaiman's book, Neverwhere, it had been a long time since I'd picked up adult fantasy fiction. It was such an interesting and fun read that I find myself wondering why I turned away from the genre in the first place. It's funny, isn't it, how you fall into a pattern with your reading preferences? A rut, perhaps? Kind of like poor Richard Mayhew who found himself walking a London routine of slow and steady career advancement, sure and safe relationships, and a mundane day-to-day existence. How unsettling to find oneself 'down the rabbit hole' and wandering in a parallel world that has strange and bizarre intersections with your 'real world'. How unsettling for a reader to follow along and journey out of their 'reading rut' and into the fantastical world of London Below! Art and life intersected, for me, in a literary exercise.
When I finished the book, I set it aside for a few days before even going back and looking at a few of my most memorable passages again. While the book sat on my bedside table, I was continually thinking about Richard's decision to return to London Below. I really wondered at the wisdom of his decision, but in the end, accepted it because it was the mundane that I think he really wanted to escape. While he spent a great deal of time during his first foray in London Below moaning about the danger and feeling deserted and alone and 'erased' from existence, he was never in a situation where life was boring, where his actions were inconsequential, where he was not important for SOME reason. His seemingly unimportant handkerchief was a delightful flag for Old Bailey when bartered at the Floating Market. His physical warmth was a lustful temptation for Lamia on the journey to Islington. His mere presence seemed to bolster Door. His unwitting possession of The Key saved the world for goodness sake! Being needed for the right reasons, can make a person feel a sense of worth that erases hardship and uncertainty. Hardship and uncertainty is what I feared Richard was in for when he turned his back on London Above and returned to London Below, but those are MY hang-ups not Richard's.
After thinking on Richard, I realized just what a good writer Gaiman is. His presentation of Richard is such that the reader does begin to relate closely and care about him, as if he were a flat mate or a brother or a son. The key to success for any novel is to have characters that draw you in, make you question and care about their personalities, motives, actions, and destiny. I think Gaiman succeeded famously in this book. The sheer scope of his characters is amazing. He has all the classics here - the steady and stalwart buffoon in Old Bailey, the tragic innocent in Anaesthesia, the trickster in Carabas, the forthright heroine in Door, the Siren-like vamp in Lamia, the Velvet, the dangerously evil baddies in Croup & Vandemar, the benignly good presence in the Blackfriar Abbot, and finally the ultimate power hungry and corrupted soul in the Angel Islington. It is like a psychological menu board from which to build a whiz bang story line ... just what Gaiman did.
It was a great read, Carl. You were right! Thanks for the gift!
Wrapping it up ... scenes that will stay with me .
1. Jessica stepping over the body of Door, as she rushed headlong toward her dinner date - I will never pass a homeless person on the street without looking and wondering ... will I be brave enough to actually stop and inquire if they need some help?
2. Richard, Hunter and Anaesthesia walking across The Bridge - I will never look at utter darkness in the same way again.
3. Croup & Vandemar's brutal treatment of the marquis de Carabas in the crucifixion passage - For sheer gleeful brutality, their evil will stay with me for a long time and every time I read in the paper of some heinous sick-o doing something horrid, I will feel like he/she has channeled these two.
4. Door's performance in the final confrontation with Islington, C&V - I will forever wonder just what door she opened and where it lead to.
5. Gary and Richard's final conversation and parting at the cab door - Sometimes friendships and conversations change your life dramatically. Leaving someone with an air of finality is indeed a lesson. Doors open, but they close too.