Thursday, 31 May 2012

Neverwhere group read - week 2

Sadly, time constraints mean that this group read is my only contribution to Once Upon a Time Challenge  this year. So I can't resist using one of the challenge's delightful buttons for this week's post. Isn't this little fox prince just a darling? And it's still been a huge pleasure re-reading Neverwhere, even if it's hard to fit it in around work and trying to make some impact on the much-neglected garden. 

Here are Carl's questions for week 2 and my answers. There will be spoilers here.

1.  Chapter 6 begins with Richard chanting the mantra, "I want to go home".  How do you feel about Richard and his reactions at this point to the unexpected adventure he finds himself on?

Poor Richard, he's a nice young man and there's such a lot to deal with in London Below. By the beginning of Chapter 6 he's honestly not doing too well - if Door hadn't come back to rescue him I wouldn't give much for his chances, but if he'd leapt in and starting behaving as though he was comfortable with the situation I think he'd be a much less likeable person. And would probably have managed to get himself killed within a very short time. So although he's being a bit of a wimp, I think that's okay. And, as we see, he begins to grow up quite quickly after the Ordeal - I guess that's been the problem, in fact - he's never really needed to grow up until he finds himself in London Below. People don't seem to need to, nowadays, until they face something in their lives that precipitates it - and in Richard's case, Jessica certainly wasn't encouraging him to - she was much too happy being in control.

2.  The Marquis de Carabas was even more mysterious and cagey during the first part of this week's reading.  What were your reactions to him/thoughts about him as you followed his activities?

I am certainly feeling more sympathetically towards him now he's suffering at the hands of Messrs Croup and Vandemar, but whether I should be ... I still don't know about that. But right now he's the underdog, and I always warm to them.

3.  How did you feel about the Ordeal of the Key?

Richard comes out of it well, at last, and we're all proud of him. And he's gained some respect from Door and Hunter, which he really needs. It must have been difficult, I think, to write the ordeal, because it's not, in itself, very frightening to the reader - to see the terror in it makes a big demand on your imagination. You've got to be ready to really immerse yourself in what Richard's going through, and to think about it, for the impact to be real to you.

It's interestingly topical, too: at the time when Neverwhere was written homeless people were very noticeable in London - they are less so now, which probably reflects aggressive policing rather than any improvement in the lot of the poorest members of society. They are still pretty evident in other UK cities and it becomes necessary - uncomfortably - to ignore them to a large extent, but even as you ignore them, if you have any imagination at all, there's still a feeling of "there but for the grace of God..." and I guess that's what drove Gaiman to write the scene in those precise terms. It demonstrates what a humane writer he is, while being a good bit of storytelling...

4.  This section of the book is filled with moments.  Small, sometimes quite significant, moments that pass within a few pages but stick with you.  What are one or two of these that you haven't discussed yet that stood out to you, or that you particularly enjoyed.

They are elegant little vignettes, aren't they, that Gaiman is so good at - reminiscent of those very short stories in Fragile Things. My head is full of pictures: dining on the platform with the Lady Serpentine as the train rushes past - I get a feeling of such loneliness from that, without being sure why; the Earl quoting Anglo-Saxon poetry, which is another of those timeless moments, reminding you that time behaves strangely here; Jessica's exhibition being about angels - so there's synchronicity, too.

5.  Any other things/ideas that you want to talk about from this section of the book? 

Only one thing, I think: this is really quite a short book, but it's so stuffed with images and little details that catch your attention as you pass  - like the one about the Earl's poetry sounding like Anglo-Saxon. It's so economical, but adds so many extra layers of meaning just in those one or two lines. It goes back to what I said in week one about mythology - Gaiman plays on both our deep mythologies, about angels and talking animals and bogeymen, and on the more recent ones, the urban myths which tap into and become entangled with the deeper ones. He has the art of taking something straightforward and imbuing it with layers of meaning - for the willing reader this can turn what looks like a simple story into a deeply enriching experience.


  1. You know what I loved about Neverwhere? It was the sense that every single one of the characters in London Below had a massive backstory - but I was never going to know it. Every smallest detail than Gaiman slips in tells you that he knows so much more about the Earl, the Marquis, Hunter...if only he would tell.

    1. Oh goodness yes! If only he would write the Marquis's story...I've looked for hints of it in Gaiman's short stories, in the way you find bits of the American Gods mythology creeping into them, but I can't remember any possible Neverwhere characters cropping up. Pity. But I adore authors who write like that :-)