For the final week of the group read, Carl asked about what stood out about the book, and particularly about our feelings about the characters now it's over. Although I'd read it before, I like to let go of what I know about a story while I'm reading, and try to bring a fresh eye to it, so my heart was in my mouth when Richard went back to London Above - could he really be happy there? We'd seen him grow so much as a person and, while even without its arch-villains I don't think London Below would ever be the safest place to live (the shepherds are still there, and who knows what else the erratic timeflow might throw up), Richard is much less naive. He might still be a little too inclined to be trusting, but that's because he's a nice guy. I'm going to miss him and Door and Old Bailey.
But the standout character for me is the Marquis - he's the one whose history I most want to explore. Surviving in London Below takes wit and skill, and the ability to create one's own identity, to manipulate the stories that are told and the Marquis has shown himself to be astute in this respect: his personality is mutable and adapts to circumstances, he's sly and devious and has amassed considerable power and even wealth of the kind worth having in London Below (for instance, the tune he gives to Lear). He's named himself for Puss in Boots' "master", but since, in the fairytale, Puss's master is really a complete catspaw, it's appropriate that our Marquis has appropriated both roles to himself. He's also decisive, entrusting his hidden life to Old Bailey from the outset in the expectation that saving Door will put him at great risk. Even this is done as a matter of an exchange of favours, the most valuable currency in the world below - the Marquis is thoroughly pragmatic and doesn't do anything without favours. His failing, perhaps, is arrogance, but it doesn't make him foolhardy - generally, I think, he knows his limitations and works safely within them, and I guess he's weighed the risk he's taking with Croup and Vandemar pretty carefully, and decided that the information gained will be worth it - as he says, no one bothers to be discreet when there's going to be no witness. That's a familiar trope from endless films and novels, where the murderer explains everything to the victim because the victim is going to be dead any minute and it tends to feel contrived - I just love the way that Gaiman does it here: their victim really is going to be dead. The Marquis is the "knowing" trickster par excellence, elegant, dangerous (but not in a crude way), self-serving, but somehow always true to himself. Now we're at the end of the book, I think he's sublime - oh, and I loved the way he was portrayed in the TV series.
The only other thing I'd say is to reiterate what I said last week: that I love the way Gaiman can make a simple story carry a much greater significance by adding the sort of details that map onto our own experience in a way that stops you short and makes you think, oh, I'm not the only person who sees the world that way, or by taking a common experience and giving it a little twist to make you see it anew. Neverwhere isn't the most profound book ever written, nor even the best told, and it doesn't work for everyone - but, for those who love it, it has a feeling of authenticity, that sense that you really might wake up one morning and see a door where there hasn't been one before, or stumble through the back of a wardrobe, or, if you look in the mirror long enough, you just might find yourself on the other side of the glass in that tantalising room that looks both familiar and different. These things happen . . . don't they?