Neverwhere: a review + a story of a two-year reading drought and how it ended

“Richard wrote a mental diary in his head.
Dear Diary, he began. On Friday I had a job, a fiance, a home, and a life that made sense. (Well, as much as an life makes sense). Then I found an injured girl bleeding on the pavement and I tried to be Good Samaritan. Now I’ve got no fiance, no home, no job, and I’m walking around a couple of hundred feet under the streets of London with the projected life expectancy of a suicidal fruit fly.”

I first found Neil Gaiman in his book Anansi Boys at an airport bookstore. This was ever-so-soon after I discovered that reading fiction as an adult didn’t mean growing up from YA books and reading Jane Austen instead.

That realization also came from a book bought in an airport on an earlier trip, and it came none too quickly, finally ending a silly drought from (non-assigned) reading that characterized my first two years of college.

I hope you don’t think I was an idiot (or more than you should, at least). I really don’t know why I was stuck in that odd false dilemma, between “childish” and dreadful (to me) Austen. I was aware of other genres, but not the right ones, or not in the right way. (And it didn’t help that college was full and busy and rushed, and it was easy to fall away from the simple pastime of pleasure reading anyways.)

That first airport purchase was Room, by Emma Donaghue, and it was wonderful.  And it was a startling realization, really, that such a thing as fiction  — that wasn’t YA, wasn’t Austen, but was still for me — existed. It was a short leap there to finding genres of literary fiction and memoirs and such. And then! Then there was the knowledge that there was nothing wrong with keeping YA in my life, nothing wrong with lots of sci fi, lots of fantasy, and even lots of so-called “chicklit” — but that I would be best to keep finding variety on my Goodreads shelves.

Oh, and also that breaking and quitting not a dozen pages into an Austen novel did NOT mean that I needed to break and quit with classics as a whole.

And that was How I Overcame a Reading Drought. Now back to Gaiman.

Anansi Boys came just after this whole thing, just after Room, and I was smitten. I’ve read a few other Gaiman books since then, and those I’ve finished have been wonderful (The Ocean at the End of the Lane; StardustThe Graveyard Book; a dozen or two short stories), and the one I didn’t finish, I may pick up again one day and give another try (American Gods). If anything, his books can lean dark, but they are always fantastic, always magical in the very best way.

Neverwhere

Neverwhere was one I’d had on lists for awhile. I’d had it checked out before, and never started for some reason or other (it looked a bit too long by some arbitrary standard of mine, might have been one). I’d had it on audio book, but the first chapter was, well, the entirety of my futile attempts to use audio books. Finally, I checked it out on Kindle again this January and pushed through to the end.

That was the odd thing. It took pushing to get through, but I enjoyed it thoroughly each time I did. I think this may have been partially due to the beginning-of-year pressure I put myself into regarding reading goals. I kept wanting to pick up something quicker, something I could read bunches of in a sitting and mark off a list.

But Neverwhere is a bit slow. Cautious, maybe. With characters and settings that need the time to explain to you quite exactly how ridiculous or threatening or fantastic they are.

It was the sort of book that was too dark — both in tone and an almost fully underground setting —  to have spent hours of my days inside, particularly when nature has done a fair job of rendering the rest of the January and February world into an absolutely crappy place to be outside in. As a result, I only read a handful of pages each time, and was left with this vague memory of “it took forever.”

But I liked it. And immediately upon finishing, I vacillated between three and four for the rating, because while I did really like it, finishing it did take far longer that I wanted it to. But since my rating system is incredibly arbitrary to my feelings, it got its 4. (And maybe because I’m still just smitten with anything from Gaiman’s hand. Maybe.)

Underground, grimy, but fantastic, with characters I liked a good bit, and a few that I liked not very much at all, which seemed exactly how much I was supposed to like them.

“There are four simple ways for the observant to tell Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar apart: first, Mr. Vandemar is two and a half heads taller than Mr. Croup; second, Mr. Croup has eyes of a faded china blue, while Mr. Vandemar’s eyes are brown; third, while Mr. Vandemar fashioned the rings he wears on his right hand out of the skulls of four ravens, Mr. Croup has no obvious jewelery; fourth, Mr. Croup likes words, while Mr. Vandemar is always hungry. Also, they look nothing at all alike.”

It was a good underground world to spend little bits and pieces of the January and a bit of February in — just not my favorite of Gaiman’s worlds.