Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #06: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

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Not unlike with Terry Pratchett, his Good Omens co-writer, Neil Gaiman is an author whose work I’m not as familiar with as I would like to think. I remember being introduced to his writing way back in high school, a friend of mine letting me borrow her copy of Fragile Things. Years later, though, and his prose regrettably remained a bit of an unknown commodity, me having read only The Graveyard Book, volumes one through three of The Sandman, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, and the aforementioned Good Omens in the interim.

Why, then, do I feel as if I know him well enough to consider him a personal favorite? I guess it’s primarily due to his dealings in both television and film. There’s Stardust, one of the first movies I saw in theaters without my family tagging along; MirrorMask, the glorious net result of combining Gaiman and McKean, a duo equalled only by that of Gaiman and Pratchett; Coraline, which proved that Tim Burton didn’t have a monopoly on stop-motion for children that’s of the darker variety; and, last but not least, “The Doctor’s Wife,” his first go atDoctor Who which has been met with nearly universal praise. He’s no Stephen King, but he gets around.

Now, you might notice I failed to mention the example most relevant to this review, the television adaptation of Nevewhere. That was not unintentional, as it was that same series that gave me cause for concern about the novel upon which it was based. Though I was taken rather immediately by the idea behind it, the show never seemed to take that idea and run with it like I was hoping, as well as expecting. What I got was a show that was watchable, and little more. But, as with so many books before it, I couldn’t resist Neverwhere’s allure when I discovered the book on a thrift store shelf. Who was I to think that Gaiman, whose last name it took me years to realize did, in fact, sound like “gay man” when pronounced properly, would let me down, especially with a book held in such high regard?

Apparently, someone who knew what he was talking about, becauseNeverwhere is a story in dire need of a touch-up. The writing itself is more or less up to Gaiman’s usual standards, but a close inspection of the plot reveals uncharacteristic flaws which increase in number as he moves towards the conclusion, the convolutions of the plot exposed when it comes time for the big reveal. I got the sense that he was aiming to shock his readers with revelation upon revelation, trying to keep the reader’s guessing, yet he only succeeded in making me second-guessing him, each of the twists feeling much like conjured up nonsense.

Meanwhile, he saved the worst for last, teasing readers with a virtual non-ending, again intended to take the readers by surprise, before reneging on it completely in the waning moments and going ahead with the ending I expected from the jump, the one anyone could’ve predicted from the moment Door first showed up in Richard’s line-of-sight, tired and bloody. Though I don’t mind that he went the typical route so much as I’m bothered by the fact that he wasted his readers’ time by first lolly-gagging around and delaying the inevitable.

The wonder of his writing, however, is that it can smooth over even the most patch-work of plots, meaning I could never stay mad at him for long, and that the book, as a whole, was at least what little I paid for it. In short, if Gaiman’s style of prose appeals to you, then Neverwhere should make for a decent read, no matter its many imperfections.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

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