Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (BBC Books: 1996). Richard Mayhew falls between the cracks in London to discover a new side to the city. One in which fantasy dominates and danger lurks behind every new experience.
Ego can be a c-word. It gets in the way. it’s an important thing in writing; both the ego of the writer and the ego of the reader. Perfection would be for the little c-word ego to just not be there. For the writer to allow the story and the language to speak for itself. And for the reader to read with an open mind.
It took me a while to get over my ego with this. I think Neil Gaiman is brilliant. I read American Gods a while back, and it sits proudly in the GBR HoF. I think what he does for TV, including his Doctor Who stuff, is ace. But this book, for the longest time, was like someone trying to be Gaiman and not quite hitting it.
I thought there was way too much of a smug “oooh, well isn’t this quirky” tone. I thought it drifted into fantasy cliché. I felt hearts and emotions were thrown around like putty. Everyone loved everyone else in a blink; wry looks and meaningful stares were being exchanged within days.
But a bunch of that was me. A bunch of that was my ego. I was being distracted by a few snags that my own pretensions wouldn’t let go. And in the process, the good stuff in this novel was passing me by unnoticed.
I dropped it eventually. I gave myself a kick in the toosh and tried to let more of it seep in. This is Gaiman, after all. And it was recommended to me by someone with good taste. So there must be something in here.
And there was. When I let my ego drift a bit, there was plenty to find.
The plotting (it’s Gaiman, of course the plotting) was tremendous. The pace and the reveals and the paths he led me down were gripping. And the characters, though I found them a little hackneyed, were rich. They were imaginative and colourful and interesting. And the stage it all played out on was a complete one. Gaiman created a big world, and he kept it round and he kept it consistent and he kept it compelling.
Ultimately, this was no American Gods for me. I loved that book for the writing, but also for its darkness. There’s not so much of that darkness in Neverwhere. It’s not as rich.
But give it a chance, and it’s still bloody good.
Next time, another book review, just for a change.