Skip to main content

Reading Neverwhere Out of Time

I'm wrapping up a listen to Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere," and it's reminding me of a particular type of sorrow I have, from time to time, experienced. The Russians call the sadness of longing with nothing to long for toska, which can mean ennui, deep regret, and also nostalgia. Nostalgia fits as well as anything in describing Neverwhere, as its intricate web of imagined undergrounds and subtle horrors reference a version of London now gone except for a few hidden patches. It also sums up my feeling of nostalgia for an idealized experience which I never experienced.



I should have read this book when it was released, in 1996. I think it could have easily become the source of significant obsession on my part if I had been so lucky to have encountered it then.

Maybe I'm older now and in less need (I suppose) for an alternate world of angels, droll cut-throats, and forgotten subway stations. It's also true that this is a work with a huge impact on the fantasy literature that followed it. Although I can't find any reference to J.K. Rowling's affection for the tv series or book, her world of hidden wizards and witches (and reliance on adverbs) bears obvious echoes to this earlier work. So reading Neverwhere now is a little like going backwards in a video game series; it's hard to see what makes something great if it's obscured by all that followed it.

But then, a little voice pipes up, who are you to say this isn't the best time to read this book? Although the spell doesn't quite captivate as fully, the incantations still holds power. In particular, Neverwhere gives writers all sorts of handy tools in pulling an alternate world into view: the matter-of-fact presentation, the precise descriptions, and the weary irony.

The work still holds up, with its moments of levity always carrying a sinister edge and its depravity delivered with a gentlemanly lilt. It helps that I'm listening to book on CD, narrated by Neil himself. The guy's voice is like a goddamn Stradivarius.

***

Chapter XIII of my espionage web fiction, "Agent Shield and Spaceman" is now available. Imagine James Bond in Bat Country, you'll have the basic idea of this serialized novel.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Review of I Wish I Was Like You by S.P. Miskowski

Even 23 years later, I remember 1994 and Kurt Cobain's death. I experienced that moment as a kind of inside out personal crisis. I felt ashamed by his death. As though his exit in someway indicted my own teenage miseries. "I wish I was like you," goes the verse in 'All Apologies,' "Easily amused." I felt as though a check I hadn't remembered writing had just been cashed. 


SP Miskowski's book, named after the first half of that line, is in the words of another reviewer, a novel that shouldn't work. The narrator is unlikeable, unreliable, and dead. The plot is almost entirely told as a flashback and long sections of the novel concern the inner processes of the writer. The daily grind to summon up enough self-esteem to carry a sentence to its logical conclusion is a real struggle, people, but it ain't exactly riveting.

But the thing is, this novel works. It is one of the best things I've read all year and a real achievement in weird ficti…

What I Read in 2017

The third in my series of year-end lists is literature. As in past years, I've divided this post into two categories: Novels and short stories. Each of these stories made 2017 just a bit brighter for me and I hope this list includes at least a writer or two new to you.


Novels:
I Wish I was You by SP Miskowski: This was the subject of a review earlier this year. The way I feel about this novel, the tragedy of a talented person crippled by anger and regret, transformed into a monstrous avatar of wrath, has not really left me. Beyond the perfection of its prose and its preternatural subject matter, I feel like this is one of the best evocations of the mid-nineties I've seen published. There's something about this book that lingers with me long past the concerns of its plot and characters. I guess what I'm trying to say is this work moved me. 2017 would have been a lot dimmer if I hadn't read this work.New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson: Robinson writes next-level sp…

Review of "Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste

Part of the reason American Gods works is that it offers a kind of reward to folk lore mavens and religious study majors. Do you have a working familiarity with obscure Northern European mythologies? Are you able to describe what Neil Gaiman got right and what he fudged a bit in terms of the Egyptian religion? Then the guessing games of that novel - just which Middle Eastern Goddess is this? - magnify its other charms. 
"Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste (released by Broken Eye Books), is a novella for people, like me, who are waiting impatiently for the next season of Bryan Fuller's show. It's not set in that universe, certainly, but approaches the question of folklore from a similar perspective. Namely, that myths have a definite, physical explanation and your knowledge of such things will expand your enjoyment of the work. In the case of Pretty Marys, the stories are urban legends and nursery rhymes about young women. The main character, Rhee, is named…