Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (Book a Week 12)

Escapist fantasies take many forms: superhero books, scifi stories, swords and sorcery tales, and romance novels.  They don’t all do the same things, but they can scratch the same itch. Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere has something in common with Chuck Palaniuk’s Fight Club they both follow pushovers, bored and worn down by the world they submit to and they both tell exciting, violent, and unpredictable yarns.

It’s probably a good thing that we don’t walk around punching dudes in the face everyday, but that doesn’t mean we all wouldn’t like to take a little less shit.  Neverwhere‘s main character Richard Mayhew takes a lot of shit.   He gets it from his fiancé, his colleagues, his boss, even his boss’s secretary.  The story gets rolling when he finally defies the wishes of his controlling fiancé by helping an injured vagrant (your typical manic pixie adventurer from a parallel world). From there the curtain comes up and the show is on.

Mayhew escapes.

Here I would like to pause and define a term.  I worry that someone is going to read “escapist” and think less of the work.  On the contrary, escape is only possible in a fine work. It implies a level of engagement on the part of the reader that a poorer story can’t hope for.  Neverwhere is as rich and tempting, as Jasmine from the Aladdin was when I first saw it at eleven.

Let me set up a straw man here because I can hear the complaints.

You say, “What about the real world? We live in it.”

I say, “Yes.”

You say, “We need perspective on this world.”

I say, “Yes.”

You (well not you, but some less thoughtful reader) say, “An escape is a waste of time we should be spending paying attention to it.”

I say, “Hell No!”

That’s the beauty of escapes, they have to talk to us, the people of the real world, fictional characters are great, but they don’t read their own books.  The escape only works if we can see and understand the characters we need to be able to get their situations in order to care or escape into them.

A fine fantasy novel is like a similarly.   Neverwhere is a fine book, as visceral as hunting a boar the size of an ox with a bladed weapon.

If that sounds good you might also like Fight Club.

“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman (Week 4 – Book a Week)

American Gods is as good a book as you can hope to read.  It tells a massive story with the scope and gravitas to encompass gods and nations, but it remains so specific that you feel as if your friends are living it.   The locations are real.  Gaiman lovingly describes the Great Lakes states.  Peru, Illinois and The House on the Rock are note-for-note perfect.  He may be just as good on Reykjavik but, as a Midwestern boy, I can speak with more authority on his observations of Wisconsin.

The cast of American Gods mostly contains mythic figures on the brink of a huge conflict, but a few humans find their way into the story through an accident of history.  In a way, it is easier to write a fictionalized version of character who exists already.  They carry a certain cachet and the reader can picture who they are.  But the difficulty in working with characters who exist in the collective conscious is that if the author hits a wrong note it jars the reader.  So when Gaiman introduces Loki, he needs to be the close enough to the Loki of our imagination that we recognize him, but the story needs to be engaging enough that the character doesn’t get lost in its own shadow.  Gaiman does this beautifully.

The novel is an epic.  It builds up a number of stories, starts a number of conflicts and then pays them off beautifully.  The Dude would call this book “a fucking Swiss watch.”

A Note on the Medium

I originally borrowed this book from the library in CD format.   But it was too exciting for me to wait for someone to read it to me.  I wanted to eat through it in big bites.

Recommended

Housekeeping

I had originally said that I would review Machine Man this week and I still plan to do it but I would like to post that review as a companion piece to the interview that I did with the book’s author, Max Barry and I am waiting for the Max Berry article to be published before I write that review.  If you’re waiting on that review then bless you.  You’re an angel.  If you aren’t… Well, I am going to write it anyway

 

Upcoming 

Week 5 – Dune Messiah

Week 6 – Machine Man