Monday, May 21, 2012

Neverwhere Group Read, Part 1

Blogmaster and Gaiman-aholic Carl V., over at Stainless Steel Droppings, has been a longtime staple in the blogosphere.  His posts are thoughtful, erudite, and fun, and I enjoy reading his opinions on various genre books.  So when Carl decided to host a Group Read with Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, a book that's been on my TBR for far too long, I decided that I'd jump on board if my schedule allowed.

Well, I started the book a fortnight ago, and by golly, I couldn't help myself.  I finished the whole thing, not in one sitting, mind you, but I could have.  Goodness gracious, that Gaiman sure can tell a mean story.  Anyway, I'm still participating in the Group Read, but with the unique position of a first-time reader, but having already finished the darned thing before we even started.

You can check out Carl's post here with his questions.  Other's'll be linked from there, I gather.

1. What do you think of our two villains thus far, Messrs. Croup and Vandemar?
"Her days are numbered, and the number in question isn't even in the double digits."
Mister Croup and Mister Vandemar are fiends, impeccable and charming, ruthless and lethal.  I love the banter between the two, but their amorality is truly terrifying.  I'd never want to meet the gents, that's true.
2. 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, this space that lies within or somewhat overlaps the space the "real world" occupies?
I don't see this as anything unique or original, but the way that Gaiman does it is nevertheless very Gaiman.  I definitely want to know more about London Below and the whys and wherefores of the place, that's for sure.  It kind of reminds me of parallel universe theories and whatnot, only with a fantastical skew.
3. What ideas or themes are you seeing in these first 5 chapters of Neverwhere? Are there any that you are particularly drawn to?
One major theme I immediately picked up on was the descriptors used for the London Belowers.  Gaiman describes characters as animals--all of them--and in my mind I can't help but see some amalgam of animal and human, twisted and alien, yet familiar.  I really like the way Gaiman describes things, and Neverwhere represents this wonderfully.  I think I highlighted pages worth of wonderful prose and language.  Some of my favorites are below.
"Her skin was the color of burnt caramel, and her smile would have stopped a revolution."
"Door said nothing, fairly meaningfully."
4. We've met a number of secondary characters in the novel, who has grabbed your attention and why?
I was immediately struck by the marquis de Carabas.  His roguish demeanor and charm make me immediately suspicious, but at the same time I can't help but like the guy.  I love how he bargains with favors and how he's always pulling out things from his many pockets.  
5. 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?
I picture a bazaar like place, crowded with all sorts of people (some clean, others awfully dirty) and goods.  I also picture a flea market like place, where there's so much treasure buried in the junk that it's hard to have a go through it all in the short amount of time allotted.  Me, I'd be happy with a nice bowl of curry and a comfy bench, just to sit and watch the people all around.
6. If you haven't already answered it in the questions above, what are your overall impressions of the book to this point?
I think my intro answered this, but I'll repeat.  I was so hooked by the first few pages that I couldn't help but finish the book.  There was no putting it down and reading it at the pace of the Group Read.  
One thing that I should remark on about Gaiman is that, at least to me, every one of his novels take some time to get a handle on what exactly is going on.  I think fondly of American Gods, but I know that there's a lot that I didn't get or understand.  To a degree, this is true with Anansi Boys and The Graveyard Book, too, and the same goes for his short story collections.  The first several pages of Neverwhere had me hooked, yes, but I was also confused, not able to fully comprehend a picture of Door or Croup or London Below or the marquis or so many other things.  Richard made sense, and I related to his lack of understanding and wanting to question things.  Things are simply presented as truth, and the Reader is simply forced to accept it.  (This especially rings true with American Gods.  I'm going to have to re-read that one of these days and see if it makes more sense now.)

I guess my point is that I've noticed this trend in many Gaiman stories... and I like it.  It's fun having wool over the eyes from time to time, and maybe that's part of the reason why I love Neil Gaiman's writing so much.  Perhaps I'm not alone.  Anyone else have trouble with a first time experience with a Gaiman book?


Grace said...

Seeing the characters in London Below as having animal traits is a neat touch. I like the way that people below respect animals and talk to them. I cracked up when Door made Richard apologize to the rat.

Anonymous said...

I've found that I get more out of Gaiman's novels on a second reading...once you have an idea of how the universe he's creating operates and its "rules."

That said, I've not re-read American Gods yet, but I think an audio version might be exactly what I need.

Geranium Cat said...

I do agree about it needing time to really get what's going on in Gaiman's books, and it's one of the reasons I like him so much - I wouldn't describe it as "having trouble" so much as needing time and effort. It makes it all the more rewarding, I think, when you start to be able to piece things together - I re-read American Gods last year after going to hear Gaiman talk about it, and I got so much more out of it than the first time. And loved it even more.

logankstewart said...

@Grace: Yeah, that was pretty funny. Twisted, but funny.

@nashville: I, too, think that I would get more from a re-read. I've not re-read any of Gaiman's works, though I'm bound to one of these days.

@Geranium: Indeed, that's part of the wonder of Gaiman's story telling abilities, I think. Glad to see that I'm not alone, at least.

Susan Lindquist said...

I've found Gaimon's description so vivid. He also moves things right along, so if you're concentrating on keeping tabs of characters and action you can miss some of the incredible imagery and descritive passages. Re-reading has helped me get the richness of it all .... so whoever said that they get more out of the book after re-reading is, I think, onto a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I had trouble with American Gods, I felt I missed too much but still enjoyed parts of it. That's why I wanted to read Neverwhere and give him another go, and so far so good!

nrlymrtl said...

I hadn't really thought about how Gaiman describes the Belowers with animal-like qualities. That is so cool that you brought that up. It goes hand in hand with Above being so tame, boring, orderly.

Christine said...

Hi Logan,
I ended up reading this one straight through as well. I couldn't just stop at Chapter 5!

I, too, was struck by the marquis de Carabas. I like the guy, too... but I was never sure if I should trust him. I WANTED to.. but he made it so hard to do so!

logankstewart said...

@Susan: Oh Lord Yes, the plot moves right along, and if you're not careful you'll miss out on the beautiful imagery.

@thebookwormslair: I struggled a bit with AG. Part of me really liked it, but part of me was so out of the loop that I didn't appreciate it. Hope you enjoy the rest of the book!

@nrlymrtl: That was one of the first things I noticed, and I thought to myself maybe these people are quasi-animal, something akin to the Bear in Jeff VandeMeer's The Situation?

@Christine: I can't imagine too many people did stop at Chapter 5. If so, color me impressed.

Carl V. said...

Are you saying I'm old? Hmmm?

I don't think Gaiman's creation is unique either, but his voice to me has always been unique, or at least very different than much of what I've read. I like the spin he puts on things, the lens he causes me to look through when I gaze at his worlds.

Door said nothing, fairly meaningly is such a great example of what I like about Gaiman's work. Clever, meaningful and interesting.

The Marquis is quite the character, that is for sure. I have the feeling he has many facets and that we will never see them all.

I haven't had the same experience with any of Neil's books, but maybe that came from reading Sandman first. At any rate, I can easily relate to the being hooked right away as that is exactly how I was sucked in to Neverwhere.

Enjoy reading your thoughts/experiences with Gaiman's work. I certainly understand reading straight through. There is no way I could have stopped the first time I read it. It is hard enough even though I've read it many times.

logankstewart said...

@Carl: Oddly enough, Sandman was my first experience with Gaiman, but the graphical form of a comic helped keep the confusion at bay.

This confusion is like Gaiman is giving me a glimpse of a peek of a vision of a thing and all the while telling me about the thing but not what the thing is. It works remarkably well, but it's cause for furrowed brows, too, at least for me.

Emily said...

Oh, my gosh, I hadn't even noticed the animal descriptions of the people of London Below! Thanks for pointing that out. Very interesting.

Diz said...

Between you and David, my TBR is growing! Just finished Heroes, am currently reading The Lies of Locke Lamora and have reserved Neverwhere at the library!

With working and family commitments, I am having trouble keeping up with you two - but it's sure fun trying!

I skipped over the comments and your posted questions so as not to sway my thoughts when reading.

Thanks for all the book recommendations.