Neverwhere Group Read – week one

(It’s just the beginning and I’m already late for the party. The post had to be up on Monday. Oh my. Oh well. I hope it doesn’t matter too much, and I’ll try and do better next week.)

Carl @ Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a group read for Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere — and I couldn’t resist. Neverwhere was my first Gaiman and I am still loving it as much as the first time. And Carl is providing us with insightful questions, so I’m looking forward to the discussion (I haven’t read this week’s discussion yet nor anyone’s posts. I wanted to put my ideas on screen before I read others’). So here are my answers.

1.  What do you think of our two villains thus far, Messrs. Croup and Vandemar?
I’m always a bit confused when it comes to Croup and Vandemar. Richard threw me off track. I mean, you know how he reacts when he first sees him and thinks “a fox and a wolf”? Well, I’m Italian, and to me a fox always goes together with a cat. Not a wolf, a cat. And I’m afraid that this detracts a lot from the effect Gaiman had intended — the two can never be as menacing to me as they are intended to be.
Also, my edition includes “An Altogether Different Prologue”, I don’t know if any of you read it? It was written by Gaiman to present Croup and Vandemar — and it is set four hundred years earlier. Now I may be wrong, but I don’t recollect this time-travel thing being functional to the novel itself… I’m curious now.

2.  Thus far we’ve had a small taste of London Below and of the people who inhabit it.  What do you think of this world, this space that lies within or somewhat overlaps the space the “real world” occupies?
In the introduction, Gaiman wrote that he wanted

to talk about the dispossessed, using the mirror of fantasy, which can sometimes show us things we have seen so many times that we never see them at all, for the very first time.

And I think he did a great job of it, because it’s not an easy subject to develop, not even through fantasy, but London Below works as a kind of lens through which to see more. There are two scenes that I loved especially about the invisibility of people falling through the cracks, one is the morning when Richard discovers he’s invisible, and the other is Richard and Anaesthesia on the bench, with the couple between them not noticing them and “gradually becoming more horizontal”. There is a sweet touch in using fantasy.

3.  What ideas or themes are you seeing in these first 5 chapters of Neverwhere?  Are there any that you are particularly drawn to?
During this read, the thing I’ve been noticing most is how similar this book is to other Gaiman books I read, especially Anansi Boys and American Gods. Basically you always have a character that is completely deprived of backbone and lets life throw him here and there as it pleases (I also imagine all three of them with very Gaiman-y hair), and then something happens and the character discovers a completely new life. (This train of thoughts just led me to compare this Richard/Fat Charlie/Shadow character with Duffy from The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers — not that he was blank, but… are they like that so that something bigger can happen?) Now, is this really a change? Is Richard going to find a backbone, or is he just moving on from being ordered about by Jessica to being ordered about by Door? Who is Richard, really? Why is he so blank? Is this novel about identity? (I guess not.) Also, Door looks for “safe” when she opens the door and stumbles into Richard’s life. How is Richard “safe”?

4.  We’ve met a number of secondary characters in the novel, who has grabbed your attention and why?
They are all so quirky that it’s hard to choose. I feel sad for Anaesthesia. Old Bailey is sweet. De Carabas is hiding too much. You know what? I’d love to understand all the hidden references. Anyone know of a character map or something?

5.  As you consider the Floating Market, what kind of things does your imagination conjure up? What would you hope to find, or what would you be looking for, at the Market?
I guess most readers would answer some kind of book — forgotten books, unwritten books. But the stall that always caught my attention is the one selling dreams:

“Lovely fresh dreams. First-class nightmares. We got ’em. Get yer lovely nightmares here.”

I’d love to be able to find my forgotten dreams, you know, the kind that leaves you waking up with a strong emotion (very happy, or very sad, or feeling very fortunate) but you don’t remember the dream at all…

6.  If you haven’t already answered it in the questions above, what are your overall impressions of the book to this point?
This question I skip, because it’s not my first read and because I’ve already mentioned the ways it is affecting me differently this time.

Ok, now I’m over to see the rest of the discussion. To read what other participants answered, please head over to Carl’s main post Neverwhere Discussion, Part 1.

Edition note: I am reading the author’s preferred text, as published by Headline Review, paperback, 372 pages plus exclusive material.

5 comments on “Neverwhere Group Read – week one

  1. Hi Scribacchina,
    My copy does NOT have that alternate prologue in which Gaiman introduces Croup and Vandemar four hundred years earlier! Someone else lightly mentioned something about those two villains in 1550 and I didn’t understand what they were talking about. I thought I missed something entirely in my reading.

    I also don’t have an introduction by Gaiman in my copy! I’m feeling shortchanged!!!

    I was saddened by what happened to Anaesthesia on the bridge, too. 😦

    I don’t know if I’d want to find my forgotten dreams at the Floating Market. I think maybe there’s a reason I can’t quite remember them when I wake up! Ha!

  2. That is a really good question – how IS Richard safe? He hasn’t gotten killed yet (which is saying a lot), but I keep attributing that to luck, not because he’s particularly skilled at protecting himself. We see a little more of why he might be considered safe in the second part, but up until now, he really doesn’t seem like the safest option. Good question! You’ve given me a lot to think about.

  3. Christine? There’s an edition of Neverwhere that is “the author’s preferred text”. That’s the one with the introduction and the Croup and Vandemar prologue.

    Scribacchina, after reading your answers, I realised that I had no idea what the original prologue was supposed to be. And you’re right about the fox and the wolf. That’s probably the only mental glitch I’ve had when it comes to Gaiman, usually his descriptions produce images in your head instantly. I knew there was something wrong with the picture, but it took you mentioning it for me to get it. Now, that might just be Gaiman playing games with our head, we’d never know. But something as sleek-ly (is that a word?) sly as a fox wouldn’t hang out with a wolf. Or maybe that’s the point. Great, I’m confused now. Sorry!

    I’m with you on the dreams. 🙂

  4. @ Emily: we see that he has a role to act out, but safe? I still think Richard is a strange choice for “safe”
    @ Tanya: I guess you have a point there. After this week’s read and all of your posts, I’m beginning to think that the fox and cat reference is not completely wrong. Let me see if I can explain. Pinocchio’s Cat and Fox are a pair of small-time con artists passing themselves off as the know-it-alls. Croup and Valdemar are a pair of extremely dangerous bad guys, but with all those gentleman-y airs they are trying to pass themselves off as high-class. It’s like they are built on the same model, but the Cat and the Fox are at school-bully level, and these two are like the Godfather…

Ditelo con parole vostre/Let your words be heard

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