Neverwhere, the Final Installment

I am a genuine “giver” applicant for the 2013 World Book Night. My first duty as aspirant was to nominate four books I deem worthy of giving away. It was my great pleasure to nominate Neverwhere, which I found to be a fantastic read.

Now, sadly, our group read of Neverwhere is over, and it’s time for final thoughts.

Our fearless leader Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings has asked us to consider the characters we found compelling as well as what impacted us when reading.

Characters:

I love what happens to Croup and Vandemar—the windy sweep into Never-Neverwhere. It is a darkly comic scene befitting two dastardly villains.

I wish Door could be my friend. What a great name and concept! She opens up a life of possibilities for Richard in her trademark brown leather jacket and worn lace. She is pure in heart.

I enjoyed the development of the marquis as mentor for Richard and adviser for the brave band of warriors. Following his resurrection, he becomes a noble figure and voice of authority capable of ferreting out truth and justice. It is he who discovers Hunter’s betrayal, and it is he, rather than Door, who opens the door to Richard in the end.

Angel fascinated me, the way the author played on the Lucifer archetype. It’s clear-headed Marquis who pronounces to a naïve Richard, “When angels go bad…they go worse than anyone” (303).

My Take-away:  

As a writer, I was blown away (much like Croup and Vandemar, but in a good way) by Gaiman’s command of style. Pitch-perfect scenes. Crisp, cinematic vignettes such as the one in Earl’s Court. The author layers in back story an eye-dropful at a time to build the suspense of the marquis’s history with the earl.

The use of language is impressive, too, marked by the author’s ability to drop-kick words and expectations. I love this passage: “The angel took a step forward. It was as if it were dreaming with its eyes wide open. The light from the crack in the door bathed its face, and it drank it in like wine” (328). Echoes of the golden Atlantis wine we associate with this character, and just like the reader earlier, the angel is in for a bit of a surprise.

I am still musing over Gaiman’s theme of death, judgment, and resurrection.

This is not a book I will soon forget.

Neverwhere Discussion Part Two

Hi everyone. Today we embark on part two of our discussion of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere courtesy of Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. Carl has prepared the questions below. I hope you’ll join us!

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?

More than once during this section I sensed allusions, the first being Wizard of Oz. The difference is that Dorothy had a home to go home to. Auntie Em, Jessica is not. When he wants to go home, I feel Richard is speaking more from a petulant fear than from any true homesickness. Personally, I hope he doesn’t go home.

I was gratified that following his capture of the key, the narrator observes that Richard looked less boyish “as if he had begun to grow up.” Peter Pan, anyone?

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?

In typical Gaiman fashion, the author turns our expectations on their heads. The marquis muses to himself that he is neither good nor brave. In the next tortured breath, he acts in a manner seemingly both good and brave when he “spat a gob of scarlet blood into Mr. Vandemar’s face.”

I was plenty worried when the marquis arranged a meeting with our arch villains, but I believe (in part because the marquis knows full well the consequences of his actions) that it is all in selfless service of Door.

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

I found the blackfriars pretty interesting. At first they appear doddering, even insensitive, but they seem to be observers compelled but rather powerless. In some ways more the archetype of angels than the angel himself in that they watch and guide but ultimately the human charts his course.

In the end after Richard gains the key, the abbot says, “God help us all.” With black friars as counterpoint to gold angel, I’m thinking lead vs. gold.

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.

I wanted to stay all night with the angel. The beauty of the writing and scene setting kept me spellbound. And I was drooling for a goblet of that delectable golden wine!

Later I was surprised by the viciousness of the hangover. Methinks perhaps this golden angel path may be another Gaiman sleight of hand–what appears light may prove dark. Now my mind is drifting to Shakespeare and his casks of gold, silver,  and lead–with gold and silver suspect. Much of the below world is lead, and the better for it.

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

Epiphany. OMG. (Sorry, I had to slip into valleygirlspeak for a moment.) I was like, you know, smacking my head and thinking Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. From there I started creating a mental lesson plan for my students. There are so many possibilities for the various steps that I want to see what students can conjure.

However, I will finish the book first to determine appropriate ages, maybe 8th grade and up. I have a feeling the book will morph again and again. Perhaps the dark will become darker still.

Paranormal Novel Review: Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Harper Collins, 386 pages

This isn’t a traditional ghost story such as I usually review. This is more of a ghost-as-metaphor-for-the-forgotten-ones story. But that’s actually a quest I seek in the ghost stories I read, the yearning that drives one to cross barriers and struggle to connect.

You’ve wondered, I know you have, what would happen if one day you went left instead of right, if one day you stopped because a street person asked for your help. I’ve wondered. In Gaiman’s book we find out: we go to Neverwhere. So goes our protagonist Richard Mayhew. Great name that Mayhew—as in just maybe he may hew a new future for himself. He could use one, too.

As the novel opens, he’s in a sort of thralldom with a loveless, social climbing fiancée—everything he is not—until said time when he answers the call from a forlorn, bloodied girl named Door. Not surprisingly, she can open any door, and Richard follows, as he is now erased from his former aboveground life. He finds himself in Neverwhere, an underground parallel world in which rats are revered and evil lurks along every dark, devious tunnel and Neverwherians can see us but we cannot see them.

I joined a discussion group over at Stainless Steel Droppings, so we’re going to review this novel in parts. Check it out here. For this week’s discussion, we read chapters one through five. I chose the following question to respond to: What ideas or themes are you seeing in these first 5 chapters of Neverwhere? Are there any that you are particularly drawn to?

As I said before, I am drawn to the idea of the outsider, the little match girl gazing into the room with the hearth blazing and the family gathered. To me, that’s what the ghost or other otherworldly creatures represent. I also think writers are ghosts of a sort—watching, looking in. The observers.

In addition to the outsider motif, in Neverwhere I find myself contemplating themes of chance meetings, seized (or missed) opportunities, roads not taken. Or in the case of Richard Mayhew, the road taken. What if you hadn’t gone out with your friend who introduced you to your life partner? What if Friar Lawrence hadn’t been such a bumbler, and Romeo had received the message in time? I think of that movie Sliding Doors or the two endings of The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

What if Richard hadn’t helped Door? Because of that chance meeting, what doors will Door open for Richard in the future?

It’s worth thinking about.

I invite you to read Neverwhere along with me. It’s not too late. We just started!

Ghost Novel Review: The Séance

 

 

 

The Séance by John Harwood

I decided to participate in a reading challenge run by Laura at Laura’s Reviews—my second ever! (The first was R.I.P. at Stainless Steel Droppings.) I recommend reading challenges to all you avid readers and writers out there. Anyhow, Laura’s challenge is Victorian related novels and movies, as in the setting takes place or the author lived between 1837 and 1901. Check it out here.

Of course, me being me (or is it I being I?), I had to add in the ghost element. I’ve already reviewed most of the Victorian ghost novels I know: James’ Turn of the Screw, Morrison’s Beloved, Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost.

Virginie from Laura’s site recommended Harwood’s The Séance, so that is what I read.

The Séance by John Harwood; Mariner Books, 328 pages

The Séance features multiple narrators, but key among them is Constance Langton.  Even as a child, Constance never felt she belonged. Now, orphaned, she bears the dubious distinction of inheriting a decrepit mansion with a sordid past. Disregarding prudent advice, Constance explores Wraxford Hall and reads the journal of  its previous occupant Eleanor Unwin in hopes of unlocking the mysteries of her past. Throw in revolving cabinets, gloomy weather and ill-advised séances, and you have the makings of a fine Gothic novel.

As I read this book, I thought about Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Both novels portray vulnerable brides and ghostly intercessions. What I like about The Séance compared to The Woman in White, is that Harwood brings a modern sensibility to his Victorian women. Harwood’s plucky Eleanor Unwin takes action, both mental and physical—unlike Collins’ Laura Fairlie who must await rescue, winsome soul that she is.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’ve forgotten Jane Eyre—she who bravely defends her interests and honor against more than one man who would dominate her. But a woman wrote Jane Eyre; therein lies the difference.

It makes you wonder how a 22nd century male writer will depict a 21st century woman. Will he endow her with the no-nonsense, lethal hands on hips, CSI investigator savoir-faire we’ve come to expect? Or is this archetype, too, as ethereal a projection as the Victorian ghost in a table thumping séance?