Neverwhere Group Read – week three/the end

Carl @ Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a group read for Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. This week there are no questions and Carl left it up to us what to share and what to underline. Which I appreciate… except that this week I lack the time and concentration for analysis, so you’ll get my scattered thoughts instead. Let me also say here that I am sorry for participating so little, and I hope to go back to participating blogs in the upcoming weeks, as soon as I get the time! (As usual, beware: spoilers ahead)

About the book as a whole: I’m still in love with it as much as the first time. I really hope Carl will share with us what makes him write “So is it really that spectacular of a novel?  The objective answer is “no”.” Because to me, it is spectacular, very much so each time I read it.

About Richard: many of you mentioned last week that the Ordeal was a kind of turning point for Richard. He obviously thought the same:

Richard felt oddly proud. He had proved himself in the ordeal. He was One of Them. He would Go, and he would Bring Back Food. He puffed out his chest.

But the others don’t seem to think so. And I didn’t see any turning point. More like, a gradual growth of the character. Until this:

Metaphors failed him, then. He had gone beyond the world of metaphor and simile, into the place of things that are, and it was changing him.

Now, isn’t this interesting? London Below as “the place of things that are“?

About the ending: I am very sorry to say that, after our discussion about mental illness, this time I had to read the ending differently. You know how the homeless woman has no idea about London Below? This time, for me, Gary is right, and Richard has had a nervous breakdown and has been hallucinating. And I have to say it’s a sad way of reading this book. I liked the magic better.

About references: this one is a reference to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, right? Or is this a common joke?

“Talking of the Marquis, I wonder where he is. He’s a bit late, isn’t he, Mister Vandemar?”
“Very late indeed, Mister Croup. As late as he possibly could be.”

Questions for fellow group readers:

  1. In his dream, Richard confronted the Beast alone; in the Labyrinth, he only participates in the “dance”, following Hunter’s indications. And he’s still completely out of his depth. Do you think he had some traits that made him into the Warrior? (Maybe that collection of trolls was a hint?)
  2. Why is the key given back to the Black Friars? And why was it Door that had to use it? If it was the “key to all reality”, why did it need an opener?
  3. What do you think of the processional of all the London Below characters saying goodbye to Richard?

Sorry, that’s all that I could come up with, today.

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

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Neverwhere Group Read – week two (with Wondrous Words!)

Carl @ Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a group read for Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Below are my answers to this week’s questions. Please beware, there may be spoilers. (I’m getting better… Maybe next week, the last, I will be able to post on schedule!)

1.  Chapter 6 begins with Richard chanting the mantra, “I want to go home”. How do you feel about Richard and his reactions at this point to the unexpected adventure he finds himself on?

“Well,” said Richard, “I still don’t believe that there are flocks of angels wandering about down here.”
“There aren’t,” said the Marquis. “Just one.”
“Maybe,” Richard said, persisting, “we’re thinking of different things. The angels I have in mind are all wings, haloes, trumpets, peace-on-earth-goodwill-unto-men.”
“That’s right,” said Door. “You got it. Angels.”

I’m a bit disappointed in Richard, because he tries so hard to make sense of what he is going through, he tries so hard to categorize everything so that it fits his normal, London Above experience. In this week’s post, Carl points out that this reaction is way more realistic than the usual one where the characters embrace their new, out-of-this-world experience, whatever that is. I have to agree that Carl is right, but as a reader, it still bugs me.

2. The Marquis de Carabas was even more mysterious and cagey during the first part of this week’s reading. What were your reactions to him/thoughts about him as you followed his activities?

“Now me,” said Mr Vandemar. “What number am I thinking of?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What number am I thinking of?” repeated Mr Vandemar. “It’s between one and a lot,” he added, helpfully.
“Seven,” said the Marquis. Mr Vandemar nodded, impressed.

Actually, I don’t know. He seems to know so much about so many things, he seems to have some kind of power/status of his own, and most of all he seems to be after his own plans. I’d like to know more about him, he has so many facets, and I would definitely like to read a novel with him as central character. Oh, wait — that’s what I’d have to look for at the Floating Market…

3. How did you feel about the Ordeal of the Key?

“I think I will have that cup of tea now, if you don’t mind.”

This was probably the most disappointing part of the book for me. First, we have a three-part ordeal in perfect fairy-tale style, but they go through part 1 & 2 without even realizing it and without the least difficulty (I mean, I guessed the riddle before Door did, and without stopping in my reading, and I’m no good with riddles usually!). And then, Richard’s part of the ordeal, it seemed not creative at all to me, something seen again and again. Sorry.

4. This section of the book is filled with moments. Small, sometimes quite significant, moments that pass within a few pages but stick with you. What are one or two of these that you haven’t discussed yet that stood out to you, or that you particularly enjoyed.

“And you worked for her, Hunter?”
“I worked for all the Seven Sisters.”
“I thought they hadn’t spoken to each other for, oh, at least thirty years.”

There is a tagline in The Neverending Story that goes like this: “But that is another story and shall be told another time.” More than the moments, in this reading I am noticing these very small details that hint at a completely different story branching out from this one. The quote above is just an example of what I mean, but the book is full of them. And to me, a book that hides in itself a million other stories like that, is a perfect book, no matter what.

5. Any other things/ideas that you want to talk about from this section of the book?

Its eyes were clear and wide. Its robes were not white, as Richard had initially thought: they seemed to have been woven from light.

I can’t believe I had missed this reference before. Talk about foreshadowing!

“For I am Saruman, the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!”
I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.
[…]
“I liked white better,’ I said.
“White!” he sneered. “It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.”
“In which case it is no longer white.”

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

*****

I also found a new word for this week in Neverwhere, despite the fact that it’s definitely not my first read.

… at Jessica’s mews flat in fashionable Kensington…

When I saw the word “mews” I actually thought of this:

I know that would be “meow”, but I first thought of an alternate spelling or something. Except that it didn’t fit the context. Photo credits: MowT on Flickr.

Instead, it’s this:

Photo credits: synaethesia on Flickr (Oh, I love that it sounds like one of my favorite characters from this book!)

And here’s the definition:

mews: n. Brit. 1 a row of houses or flats converted from stables, or built to appear so 2 a group of stables round a yard or along an alley.

(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

Readalong: Bleak House

As I have mentioned several times, I have been reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens as part of the readalong organized by Wallace @ Unputdonables.net Well, I am happy to announce that I have finished the book and this week is the last discussion — “happy” not because I didn’t like the experience, but because the novel seemed never-ending and I am glad I made it through! For several reasons, I limited my discussion to Wallace’s blog, and never made posts about the readalong here (except once, to understand different readings of a specific scene) — so now you’ll get a mix-and-match post with my non-organized thoughts about the both the book and the readalong.

The book: Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

The edition: I read the Project Gutenberg version (downloadable here) — the cover on the left is for illustrative purposes only. In this case, the Project Gutenberg version means the bare text, with no notes or explanatory aids, which I missed sorely. (Page number? I have to check.)

A question for readalongers: have you ever heard about this book: Inside Bleak House by John Sutherland? Do you think it would help?

About the book: for the story, have a look at this synopsis, which makes a good job of telling you about the book without getting stranded in the (too many) plot details nor giving away anything. Also, I’d like to direct you to this infographic on The Guardian, which Hannah found and Wallace shared with us, and according to which this is The Most Dickensian Novel Ever! Wow.

About the readalong: I am sure reading groups and book clubs and readalongs are the best thing ever. This was my first try, and I just loved it. I don’t often have the chance to discuss books with someone, much less in so much detail, and it was very good to exchange ideas on even the tiniest bit of information (and to play the guessing game together). I also loved the group, because they brought different views and information, and different help to interpreting. But most of all because they are great people, wonderful readers and bloggers! Thank you all, fellow readalongers, and a special thank you to Wallace for all the work she does for hosting! This is for you:

I know, animated gifs are kind of cheesy, but you deserve an applause!

My experience with the book & my thoughts: let me begin by saying that I’m not a passionate Dickensite (is that a word?), but I have read some of his works before and enjoyed them. I liked a well-built plot and loved the words. Now, here? Here Dickens gets so verbose that I tended to get distracted for paragraphs on end… and when I focused back, I realized I had missed nothing! He talks so much and says the same thing over and over in so many different ways that, by the time all the characters are introduced and the story really starts, we’re over halfway into the novel! (And that, for a novel of over 1000 pages, is something.)
I’m sorry I didn’t like the novel better. There were good things, characters that were nicely done (Boythorn, and the Bagnets, most of all), and there were the mysteries, and even a detective story… Some of these parts I even enjoyed. But the rest, I’m sure I’d have abandoned this one if it were not for the readalong. And throughout I was so distracted that I continuously came up with improbable totally crazy theories. This, and trying to guess where the story would lead, were the best parts for me 🙂

The part with spoilers and my crazy theories: to my fellow readalongers I already mentioned my idea that Esther could be gay without knowing it. (She would still marry and be happy about it, but deep inside, sh would be in love with Ada.) Now, after finishing the book, I have another one (brace yourselves!): the scene where Mr Jarndyce tells Ada she can go and live with him, and kisses one of her locks? It totally creeps me out. I think there is room for a retelling of this story, a retelling where Jarndyce actually has the hidden goals Richard accuses him of having, and where he (Jarndyce) has some kind of perversion and interest in much younger women (which would explain why Esther still calls him Guardian right through to the end…)
Just let me add: I don’t think these interpretations are correct, they are just crazy ideas that popped into my mind. This alternative version would work, but it’s not present in the original work.

Language and writing: even with what I wrote above about being too verbose, I liked learning new words, words, words (and more words).

In the author’s own words: a few preferred extracts. The first, about analphabetism:

It must be a strange state to be like Jo! To shuffle through the streets, unfamiliar with the shapes, and in utter darkness as to the meaning, of those mysterious symbols, so abundant over the shops, and at the corners of streets, and on the doors, and in the windows! To see people read, and to see people write, and to see the postmen deliver letters, and not to have the least idea of all that language–to be, to every scrap of it, stone blind and dumb!

The Bagnets are the redeeming grace of this book, I just love them and they may be the best married couple I ever saw depicted in a novel:

“George,” says Mr. Bagnet. “You know me. It’s my old girl that advises. She has the head. But I never own to it before her. Discipline must be maintained. Wait till the greens is off her mind. Then we’ll consult. Whatever the old girl says, do–do it!”

[…]

“She’s worth her weight in gold,” says the trooper.
“In gold?” says Mr. Bagnet. “I’ll tell you what. The old girl’s weight–is twelve stone six. Would I take that weight–in any metal–for the old girl? No. Why not? Because the old girl’s metal is far more precious—than the preciousest metal. And she’s ALL metal!”
“You are right, Mat!”
“When she took me–and accepted of the ring–she ‘listed under me and the children–heart and head, for life. She’s that earnest,” says Mr. Bagnet, “and true to her colours–that, touch us with a finger–and she turns out–and stands to her arms. If the old girl fires wide–once in a way–at the call of duty–look over it, George. For she’s loyal!”
“Why, bless her, Mat,” returns the trooper, “I think the higher of her for it!”
“You are right!” says Mr. Bagnet with the warmest enthusiasm, though without relaxing the rigidity of a single muscle. “Think as high of the old girl–as the rock of Gibraltar–and still you’ll be thinking low–of such merits.”

[…]

Mr. George produces his present, which is greeted with admiring leapings and clappings by the young family, and with a species of reverential admiration by Mr. Bagnet. “Old girl,” says Mr. Bagnet. “Tell him my opinion of it.”
“Why, it’s a wonder, George!” Mrs. Bagnet exclaims. “It’s the beautifullest thing that ever was seen!”
“Good!” says Mr. Bagnet. “My opinion.”
“It’s so pretty, George,” cries Mrs. Bagnet, turning it on all sides and holding it out at arm’s length, “that it seems too choice for me.”
“Bad!” says Mr. Bagnet. “Not my opinion.”

The following one is just so much fun:

“But I trusted to things coming round.”
That very popular trust in flat things coming round! Not in their being beaten round, or worked round, but in their “coming” round! As though a lunatic should trust in the world’s “coming” triangular!
“I had confident expectations that things would come round and be all square.”

And so is this (there actually is a reasoning behind it, but I had to laugh out loud):

“How old ARE you, Phil?” asks the trooper, pausing as he conveys his smoking saucer to his lips.
“I’m something with a eight in it,” says Phil. “It can’t be eighty. Nor yet eighteen. It’s betwixt ’em, somewheres.”

Counts as: What’s in a name challenge – house; Back to the classics challenge – XIX century

Top 10 Favorite Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for the list lovers among book bloggers, created and hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today the theme is “Top Ten Top Ten Favorite Quotes from Books”. Oh, how to choose? There are so many… Let’s see:

One in keeping with the theme of this blog:

How do you lose a word? Does it vanish into your memory, like an old toy in a cupboard, and lie hidden in the cobwebs and dust, waiting to be cleaned out or rediscovered?
― Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide

One for my “other” theme:

The original is unfaithful to the translation.
― Jorge Luis Borges

One more by Borges, to complete the description of this blog in 3 quotes:

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.
― Jorge Luis Borges

One because it fits our recent discussion on fairy tales:

Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
― G.K. Chesterton

One for my eyes:

All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

One for books:

Every book, every volume […] has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

Which in turn results in this:

Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times? […] As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.
― Cornelia Funke, Inkspell

One to represent the perfect opening lines of a story:

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.
― John R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Or maybe the perfect opening is this:

It was a nice day.
All the days had been nice. There had been rather more than seven of them so far, and rain hadn’t been invented yet. But clouds massing east of Eden suggested that the first thunderstorm was on its way, and it was going to be a big one.
― Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens

And the perfect ending?

I think we ought to live happily ever after.
― Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle

Wondrous Words Wednesday: John Irving

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

This week I am reading John Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River and from the many (mostly food-related) new words, I decided to share two that in some sense give a taste of the book.

*****

The wanigans themselves were disappearing.

According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, via TheFreeDictionary.com, a wanigan can be defined as follows:

  1. New England & Upper Northern U.S. a. A boat or small chest equipped with supplies for a lumber camp. b. Provisions for a camp or cabin.
  2. Alaska a. A small house, bunkhouse, or shed mounted on skids and towed behind a tractor train as eating and sleeping quarters for a work crew. b. An addition built onto a trailer house for extra living or storage space.

It is interesting that the definition states the regional difference, because this scene is not set in Alaska, but still the way the word is defined inside the novel sounds more like #2:

Not long ago, the only dining lodge on a river drive hadn’t been a lodge at all. There once was a traveling kitchen that had been permanently built onto a truck body, and an adjacent truck on which a modular dining hall could be taken down and reassembled […] Those curious shelters for sleeping and eating and storing equipment had not only been mounted on trucks, on wheels, or on crawler tracks, but they were often attached to rafts or boats.

Now, the novel goes on to talk about the word itself, and this obviously picked my curiosity:

The Indian dishwasher — she worked for the cook — had long ago told the cook’s young son that wanigan was from an Abenaki word, leading the boy to wonder if the dishwasher herself was from the Abenaki tribe. Perhaps she just happened to know the origin of the word, or she’d merely claimed to know it. (The cook’s son went to school with an Indian boy who’d told him that wanigan was of Algonquian origin.)

So what has the dictionary to say about this? Apparently the Indian boy was correct, but the Abenaki also spoke Algonquian, so… I’m afraid I know too little about Native American tribes and languages to comment:

Regional Note: Wanigan is apparently borrowed from Ojibwa waanikaan, “storage pit,” from the verb waanikkee-, “to dig a hole in the ground.” Nineteenth-century citations in the Oxford English Dictionary indicate that the word was then associated chiefly with the speech of Maine. It denoted a storage chest containing small supplies for a lumber camp, a boat outfitted to carry such supplies, or, as in Algonquian, the camp equipment and provisions. In Alaska, on the western edge of the vast territory inhabited by Algonquian-speaking tribes, the same word was borrowed into English to indicate a little temporary hut, usually built on a log raft to be towed to wherever men were working.

*****

Your mom was still dancing around them, doing her pretty little do-si-dos.

According to Wikipedia, do-si-do is an alternate spelling of dosado, and here’s from their definition:

A dosado is a basic dance step in such dances as square dance, contra dance, polka, various historical dances, and some reels. It is a circular movement where two people, who are initially facing each other, walk around each other without or almost without turning, i.e., facing in the same direction (same wall) all the time. In most cases it takes 6-8 counts to complete. The term is a corruption of the original French term dos-à-dos for the dance move, which means “back to back”, as opposed to “vis-à-vis” which means “face to face”.

The novel says as much:

Danny knew that a do-si-do was a square-dance figure. […] Jane had demonstrated a do-si-do for Danny; with her arms folded on her enormous bosom, she passed by his right shoulder, circling him back-to-back.

Still confused? I was, so I looked for videos, and found this one that shows the dosido, together with other figures:

 

And while looking for videos, I came across this page, which does not really help with the definition, but which I want to share because it’s genius and I love new ideas for explaining science: how to use square dance to explain symmetry. (On a side note, the Carleton College page links to a site called The Dance of Mathematics, where I just read that this concept was presented here in Coimbra last year. Shame that I missed it!)