When I finish reading a book, I barely wait to write the review. Most of my blogs on books are written feverishly. I succumb to an urgency that doesn’t exist. I drop the book, open the laptop, and simply write. Nontraditional in every sense, when it comes to writing. 🙂
But, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere seems to have cured my condition. I am writing this blog, two days after I finished reading the extraordinary work.
I am a woman of volte-faces. Remember my confession about revising my rating on Goodreads? Some books take time to agree with me. Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane – although I found it ordinary in the beginning – stayed with me for two weeks. I didn’t want to think about the book. But, it slowly made its way to my heart, and I couldn’t think of anything else but the book for quite some time. It is a part of my indelible memories now; a book that I aspire to re-read some day.
Despite being acquainted with Gaiman’s works, I didn’t intentionally give time to Neverwhere to see if it would grow on me. Honestly, I was confused after I finished. For the first time, I wanted to marshal my thoughts. I wanted to think of the themes, my favourite passages and characters. And, I must admit, I began to adore the book.
At the risk of sounding a bit weird, I divulge that I love Gaiman’s introductions as much as his books. Have you read the introduction that he wrote for Diana Wynne Jones’s Dogsbody? It made me weep like a baby. Only then, I told myself I should read his books.
Likewise, I fell in love with the introduction that he has written for Neverwhere. I kept reading this passage, and heaved a deep sigh.
“By the time I was finished, I’d added around twelve thousand words, and cut several thousand different words. Some of the words I was happy to lose. Others I missed.”
There is something romantic about Gaiman’s confession about “missing” some words. It always, always used to happen for me, when I was writing for media houses. After the editors reworked on my stories, I would rush to re-read my articles just to ensure that my favourite words were not eliminated. If they were chopped, I would observe a moment of silence for the ill-fated words. 😉
I also loved what Gaiman mentioned about people falling through cracks.
“What I wanted to do was to write a book that would do for adults what the books I had loved when younger, books like Alice in Wonderland, or the Narnia books, or The Wizard of Oz, did for me as a kid. And I wanted to talk about the people who fall through the cracks: to talk about the dispossessed, using the mirror of fantasy, which can sometimes show us things we have seen so many times that we never see them at all, for the very first time.”
Neverwhere is yet another testimony to Gaiman’s limitless, bizarre imagination. Richard Mayhew – the believable, funny, considerate protagonist – might not be memorable. But, his adventures in “London Below” are truly unforgettable. In one particular scene, the narrator says, “Richard wandered through the huge rooms of the store, like a man in a trance…” That’s exactly how I felt when I read Neverwhere. Utterly trance-like. Every now and then, I kept asking myself: Is this possible? Is this too convenient? I realised then it was “London Below” after all, where unthinkable was the norm. However, Gaiman doesn’t take undue advantage of that phenomenal world. He doesn’t seem to get lazy with the writing, even when the story leads. His writing is as lyrical and intuitive as ever.
The book features some quaint characters. Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar are ruthless, but intriguing. Hunter is a surprise. My favourite is Old Bailey. From the Q & A section in the book, I learnt that the old guy is Gaiman’s favourite too. Old Bailey, who lives on rooftops, talks to birds. To be more precise, he tells them jokes and stories. The birds don’t judge him even if he cracks lame jokes. Old Bailey is charmingly vintage.
Oh, and I love all the rats!
A lot of books that I read in the recent past connected with me personally at some level. Neverwhere offered a lot more, for I have played a Richard Mayhew (especially the one in the last chapter) several times in my life. For that matter, most of us have. 🙂 And, I am happy for Richard Mayhew. I think he made the best decision. It takes a lot to be a non-conformist, doesn’t it?
“Whatchyouwant?” she asked Richard, suspiciously. “Nothing,” said Richard. “I really don’t want anything. Nothing at all.” And then he realised how true that was; and how dreadful a thing it had become. “Have you ever got everything you wanted? And then realised it wasn’t what you wanted at all?”
“He had noticed that events were cowards: they didn’t occur singly, but instead they would run in packs and leap out at him all at once.”
“What’s it like then?” asked Old Bailey. “Being dead?” The marquis sighed. And then he twisted his lips up into a smile, and with a glitter of his old self, he replied, “Live long enough, Old Bailey, and you can find out for yourself.”
“Work. Home. The pub. Meeting girls. Living in the city. Life. Is that all there is?”
“I’m going to go home. Everything is going to be normal again. Boring again. Wonderful again.”