Neverwhere Group Read, Part 1

Hello!  Many people have told me recently how much they love Neil Gaiman.  When Carl mentioned that he wanted to host a group read of Neverwhere for Once Upon a Time I signed up.  I was supposed to put up my post yesterday and I had every intention of doing so.  But after a day of visiting Warwick Castle, Shakespeare’s home, and Oxford University my mind was spent.  I have family in town this week and we are doing as much sightseeing as possible.  I apologize for being late to the party.  This is a wonderful book and I am looking forward to discussing it with all of you over the week.

Please note that there will be spoilers below.  If you would like to follow all of the discussions, please visit this page.

1.  What do you think of our two villains thus far, Messrs. Croup and Vandemar? 

When Gaiman first introduced Messrs. Croup and Vandemar I thought that I shouldn’t like them.  They seemed evil and they are the “bad” guys of the story.  However, even though I wouldn’t want to tango with them, I am fascinated by these two creatures.  From the section we read, I still don’t know who or what they are exactly.  I find them somewhat funny, disturbing, but most of all, something I haven’t encountered in other readings.  Maybe that is what I like most about them, the freshness of their evil and humorous ways.  I love the way they interact with each other.  Out of the two, Mr Croup is my favorite (if you can have a favorite villain).  In his words, “Well, slit my gullet, you’re right.  How could I have been such a ninny?”

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?

I am loving London Below.  It is a crazy place, where there are rules, but I’m not sure if everyone knows all of the rules.  Poor Richard doesn’t even comprehend what he has gotten himself into it.  And I think that is a perfect depiction.  In today’s world, most of us ignore the parts that disturb us.  Gaiman’s London Below is a perfect creation to point out this aspect of our world.  Yesterday I was on a tour bus in London with a ton of other people.  Everyone was thrilled with the beautiful parts of town, but when we drove by a group of homeless people, most looked away after muttering, “oh that’s awful.”   Sometimes in Gaiman’s world, the denizens of London Below go Above and most, if not all of those who live above do not notice them since they probably don’t want to.  And watching Richard’s reaction is wonderful.  So far I am really impressed with Gaiman’s storytelling abilities.  I would love to have a conversation with him since I think he would have some enlightening ideas about this world.

3.  What ideas or themes are you seeing in these first 5 chapters of Neverwhere?  Are there any that you are particularly drawn to?

Oh the dreaded, what ideas or themes are in the novel question?  I was never very good when the teacher turned to me and asked me this question in class.  Usually I would freeze and not saying anything, but I was a painfully shy kid so even if the teacher asked what my favorite color was I would freeze and mumble green or something, even though my favorite color is purple.

This first thing that popped into my head are doors.  This isn’t clever on my part, since one of the main characters is Door.  I am still trying to figure out what the doors symbolize, if anything, or is Gaiman saying that there are doors all over this world that many of us don’t want to explore since we are scared of what we would find.

4.  We’ve met a number of secondary characters in the novel, who has grabbed your attention and why?

I’ve already mentioned that I’m fascinated by the two villains.  But I have to say that Hunter is very intriguing.  I love when a female character kicks butt.  And I have to say that I was worried about Croup and Vandemar’s evil scheme so when Hunter came in at the last second, I sighed in relief.

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 think I would be too overwhelmed by all of the items in the Floating Market, so knowing me, I wouldn’t be looking for anything in particular.  Instead I would be taking many photographs to capture the spirit.  Maybe that is what I would be looking for, the perfect picture so I could tell people about the Floating Market.  And I’m a people watcher.  This sounds like the best place to people watch.  Seriously, I’ve been to Harrods and this sounds like a much more entertaining place.  Can you tell that I don’t like malls?

6.  If you haven’t already answered it in the questions above, what are your overall impressions of the book to this point?

I am really enjoying his storytelling.  It seems silly since most writers tell a story, but Gaiman’s novel just flows.  He is introducing a whole new world and none of it seems awkward.  His characters are spot on.  His plot moves quickly, but not too quickly.  Reading it is effortless, if that makes sense.  Instead of questioning, I am enjoying the novel.  I read a good chunk of this novel in a pub with a beer and it was one of the most delightful afternoons.  To me, that means that the novel is fantastic.  If I look back on my reading experience and say, “What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon,” the author has executed his or her job excellently.

Since my family is in town, it will take a little longer than normal to get to all of your blogs to read your answers.  I hope to visit a few each day.  Thanks for your patience and I apologize.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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30 Responses to Neverwhere Group Read, Part 1

  1. Wow, you packed a lot into one day! My son loved Warwick Castle. 🙂

  2. Grace says:

    I’m glad you’re enjoying the book thus far! I wonder if the people of London Below at the Floating Market would even show up in photographs. I feel like I’d go to develop them and it would just be Harrods, leaving me very confused.

    • TBM says:

      Maybe they sell special cameras…or I’ll be that crazy person who goes around with a blank picture claiming that there is a whole other world that no one knows about. Like people who take photos of alien invasions.

  3. geraniumcat says:

    It’s good to know I’m not the only person who hates malls – and I don’t like Harrods, though I’d love to see the Floating Market superimposed on it. I like your point about not seeing the people we feel uncomfortable about, too. In all Gaiman’s writing he seems to find the people who fall through the cracks much the most interesting.

    • TBM says:

      I’ve never been big on shopping. A day at the mall seems like punishment. I hopped into Harrods around Christmas time to take it in since I was new to London. It was a fun and brief visit. The floating market though, that seems so much cooler! This is my first Gaiman book and so I didn’t know about his commentary about the people who have fallen off the grid. I like that aspect. All of us should be more aware.

  4. Carl V. says:

    Interesting question: If you took pictures of the floating market, would they turn out? Hmmmm….
    “Effortless” is a good way to describe Neil’s writing. It does have that kind of flow and his novels become more so with each successive work. Neverwhere does strike a nice balance between detail and action so that you are never bogged down in either.

    I love Croup and Vandemar. They are just too much fun, and there is more delightful wordsmithing about them in the coming sections of the book. There is a British-ness to them but also an otherwordly quality. As if they come from a much older time.

    Interesting story about your tour. I’ve been particularly interested in you reading this because of your recent transplanting to the city where this is set. One of the things I am determined to do someday is to take a “Neverwhere” tour through London. I want to visit the places, the real ones at least, where these events take place. I believe that would add so much of a tangible layer to this, my favorite novel.

    I do think Neil has an interesting take on the ignored in our society. Charles de Lint does as well. They are from an interesting school of writing in that respect and I’d love to pick the brains of both men, and other authors who do this, about their thoughts/ideas about the homeless, the broken, the mentally ill, etc.

    And you are being clever in mentioning doors, something I have thought about before but completely skipped my mind on this read through. There is a lot of symbolism in the story, I believe, not all of it that I catch. And I think doors and the idea of doors are VERY symbolic in the story.

    • TBM says:

      They have “Neverwhere” tours. I’ll have to look into that. I would love to do as many tours as possible about writers and books I like. I’ll pretty much take any excuse to go on a tour and see the city.

      The first few pages of the novel were really fun for me. Richard’s reaction to the city and such made me smile on many occasions. I remembered how I felt six months ago when I came over here. One part the really stuck with me was “Richard had originally imagined London as a grey city, even a black city, from the pictures he had seen, and was surprised to find it filled with colour. It was a city of red brick and white stone, red buses and large black taxis (which were often, to Richard’s initial puzzlement gold, or green, or maroon). bright red postboxes, and green grassy parks and cemeteries.” I could totally relate to this and it brought back many memories to me. I’m still amazed by how large, diverse, and wonderful London is.

      I haven’t read de Lint yet, but I would love to. Let me know where I should start. And you have me hooked on Gaiman, which I think you knew would happen. What Gaiman book should I read next?

      • Carl V. says:

        I would read Stardust next. It is a beautiful fairy tale. American Gods is a chunk of a book. It has a really good solid story, although it also has little interludes, some of which are more like some of the darker short stories that I just don’t enjoy. Still, I give the novel high praise. Anansi Boys is set in that same universe but doesn’t really have to be read after American Gods as they are only peripherally related. It is actually a more fun story that is an homage to many things including P.G. Wodehouse.

        As for de Lint, I’d start with the short story collection Dreams Underfoot.

        I’m glad you are enjoying the book, especially being able to relate to it as someone who has recently moved to London. Those book tours sound fun. I’ve often said if I went to London I’d want to do literary tours, not the usual tourist stuff. I’d want to have a drink where the inklings hung out, walk the streets that Doyle took Sherlock Holmes down. etc.

      • TBM says:

        Thanks Carl. I’ve added them to my list that I carry with me at all times. You never know when you’ll find a used bookstore in London. It is one of the best aspects of this city…it really is.

        I love visiting the homes of writers. I’ve been to many and I learn so much about them and understand their stories even more. Do you think Gaiman would invite our book club over? I would be more than happy to hop across the pond for that since I think he lives in America now.

  5. Jo Bryant says:

    This sounds like a book for me.

  6. gaijinforever says:

    Argh! I should have read this sooner. Neil Gaiman rocks. 🙂

  7. Thanks for your great answers! I wasn’t sure whether reading your post would be a good idea as I am not participating in the group read, and I do want to read the book soon. Your post rather piqued me and I decided to try and find the book asap. Last time I looked up my public library online catalogue, this book wasn’t available. And my kobo e-reader is on a European tour with my son :-), so I’ll have to buy a paperback. I know, excuses, excuses… 🙂

    • TBM says:

      I hope you can track down a copy. Carl suggested Gaiman to me in the past and when he offered the group read I couldn’t pass it up. It is such a fun read. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. I hope your son is having a grand time 🙂

  8. Myra GB says:

    I know you mentioned this before, but I totally missed it!!! Too bad. 😦

  9. Susan says:

    I liked your comment about looking and acknowledging trhe people that we feel uncomfortable seeing … for seeing will take us through a door to experiences we might not be able to ignore. Doors … yup…doors make a great theme … and looking downward … Richard looked down at a poor hurt person and his life is forever changed … your comments have me rolling here … thanks! Sometimes, it’s the comments of other readers that help me understand or connect more and more with a book or passage …glad you posted!

    • TBM says:

      Looking down…that’s a great one. I know what you mean by reading other people’s answers and understanding or seeing stuff that you missed. That is my favorite part about the group reads. I’m excited for the next group of questions.

  10. Christine says:

    Hi TBM,
    I think your theme of ‘doors’ is an excellent observation. Your high school lit teacher would be pleased. 😉

    I mentioned the theme of finding your path in life.. sensing Richard’s path at the onset of the story–with his job and worse, his future with Jessica–to NOT be the right one for him. While I’m hesitant to say that his path to London Below is necessarily a good one.. perhaps it is just what Richard needs to straighten out his priorities. If he can stay alive, at least. I think your mention of ‘doors’ is similarly minded. What drives our decisions to open one door and close another? How strongly do our choices influence our future? Can we go back through the same door and choose another one instead? A lot to think about.

    • TBM says:

      That is a great question…what happens when we open the wrong door. I think Richard may start to realize this and I’m curious what he thinks the wrong door is. I wasn’t a huge fan of Jessica so I hope he doesn’t go back to that door. I like nice, caring people. She didn’t seem that way at all. And I like your question of how much do we influence our own futures or are we just a product of the stuff that comes our way.

      I like your idea of finding our paths in life. That is a great way of putting it.

  11. Emily says:

    Croup and Vandemar completely creep me out, but they crack me up, too. (I love that line you quoted.)

    Doors are a major theme in the book, and one I can’t believe I didn’t think of when I was answering that question! Good observation 🙂

  12. Scribacchina says:

    Nice that you mentioned Mr Croup’s “way with words”, to me it’s one of the aspects that make the book so much worth! I’m glad you are enjoying it.
    Side note: are there really Neverwhere tours in London? I’d love to go too (unless they are like the Third Man tour in Vienna: just a tour of the sewers!)

    • TBM says:

      I haven’t had much success in finding a Neverwhere tour just yet. I’ll keep you posted if I do stumble on one though.

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