Sunday, November 25, 2012
Gaiman's Neverwhere Hits the Spot
I've just finished reading Neil Gaiman's novel "Neverwhere," which I keep wanting to spell (unaccountably) "Neverwear." An oddity: The title is never used, as far as I could tell, during the text of the novel itself. It's not the proper name of the locality where the action occurs, or of the time when it occurs.
The novel is a definite page-turner, in start contrast to "American Gods," which I tried in vain to finish. I finished "Neverwhere" in about four days (lightning speed for my slothful self); by that time, I'd reached about Page 20 of "American Gods." One sweeps you up, while the other leaves you to stumble along.
One thing Gaiman accomplishes with "Neverwhere" is that he leaves several questions unanswered, but somehow convinces the reader, through some pretty impressive prose, not to care in the least. He creates an alternate world where the rules aren't ever fully clear. Normally, that would be off-putting (at least for me), but in this case, it didn't matter. In some ways, it even added to the book's charm. The story didn't get bogged down in analytical details, instead hurtling me forward through a shadowy reality that was nonetheless steeped in vivid description.
This was a lot of fun. Not quite up to Gaiman's collaboration with Terry Pratchett, "Good Omens," but close and perhaps closest in tone - of his works that I've read - to "The Graveyard Book." The protagonist, a nondescript corporate clone named Richard who collects troll dolls, becomes a hero despite himself. It's refreshing to find Gaiman dealing with male-female interactions without resorting to such cliches as over-the-top romance or blatant sensuality. There's none of either here, but there are hints of some very human feelings and the ambiguities that often accompany them.
There are also a couple of nasty villains and a few nice plot twists that manage to be clever without becoming convoluted. Gaiman telegraphs his punches once or twice (I won't say where, as I don't want to give anything away), but it doesn't spoil the plot. On the other hand, he keeps the reader guessing enough to more than compensate for any brief pauses in the neighborhood of predictability.
Definitely worth picking up if you're looking for a quick, engaging road trip through an alternate reality beneath the streets of London.