Kat Kennedy's Reviews > Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
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May 27, 10

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Read from May 25 to 27, 2010

I first started reading this book and honestly wanted to just chuck it in the bin. I said very mean things about the protagonist under my breath.

Surely, I said, a Protagonist means that they are pro and totally into furthering the story. Surely, Protagonist is the similar to Proactive and Productive.

I was wrong. The word Protagonist, in its basic form is not similar to proactive. It simply, from the Greek plays, means the principle character or the first speaking character.

However, I maintain that the kind of protagonist that most people want to read about is one that actually bloody does something!

History/Language lesson over.

Neverwhere is a book that TRIES to be clever and magical. In many senses it utterly manages to be magical and creative and fun. It fails, however, to be clever. There are so many lines in this book intending to be dry wit and just come off dry stupid.

Allow an example:

There are four simple ways for the observant to tell Mr Coup and Mr Vandemar apart: first, Mr Vandemar is two and a half heads taller than Mr Croup; second, Mr Croup has eyes of a faded, china blue while Mr Vandemar's eyes are brown; third, while Mr Vandemar fashioned the rings he wears on his right hand out of the skulls of four ravens, Mr Croup has no obvious jewellery; fourth, Mr Croup likes words, while Mr Vandemar is always hungry. Also, they look nothing at all alike.

Oh! I see what you did there! *Kat laughs, slapping her knee with her hand in amusement*

No, not really. If he'd left out these lame little lines I think I probably would have enjoyed this novel a whole lot more.

Just about every other character in this story is awesome except for the protagonist. Give me a story about Marquis de Carabas and I will read it in a second. Honestly, fantastic character right there. Tell me I have to read another whiny missive about Richard Mayhew and I will likely stick hot pokers into my eyes first.

I get it. I really do. It's a journey. He has to LEARN and GROW and CHANGE. But he takes a REALLY long time to do it and he only ever grows to be slightly less pansy, soft and annoying. The total character growth comes to equal someone who doesn't just sit idly by and let people take stuff from him.

Let me give you an example. He met a girl who was unconscious in the streets and bleeding to death. He takes her home. This causes his fiancee to break up with him. He then goes through a lengthy process to get the girl back where she came from. Once he does this he then loses his job, his apartment and all his money. He then goes to find the girl for a) an explanation and b) help. Without her help he will probably die as another side effect of having met her is that he has two psychopathic killers on his tail.

She simply apologizes and walks away, abandoning him. So what does he do? Does he chase her down and gently remind her that she owes him a favor? Does he barter and trade what he can, whilst trying to lure the killers into a trap so that he can some how defend himself? No. I will now transcribe from the book EXACTLY what he does.

Richard leaned against a wall, and listened to their footsteps, echoing away, and to the rush of the water running past on its way to the pumping station of East London, and the sewage works. "Shit," he said. And then, to his surprise, for the first time since his father died, alone in the dark, Richard Mayhew began to cry.

He decides to stay there and die. That's right, folks. He just stays there waiting to die.

Boo-fucking-hoo.

Ya know, I don't accept this crap from a female character - nor do I accept it from a man. How the hell am I suppose to sympathize with someone who so blithely lets everything he has slip through his fingers because he can't speak up and demand explanations or some kind of help? This level of pitiful doesn't help the audience empathize - it makes them think your protagonist is an idiot.

The plot is pretty good - despite everything being painfully obvious and predictable at the end.

The world building is fantastic. It's probably the best thing about this book. It's really creative and fascinating and interesting.

Over all, it was an alright read. It wasn't great. I labored through until the last half where it began to pick up and markedly improve. Thus only three stars. Had the first half been more like the last half then it would have earned four.

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Reading Progress

05/26 page 15
4.05% "Definitely written by a man. Definitely." 1 comment
02/14 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-47 of 47) (47 new)

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message 1: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana Seems like I'd better take it off my TBR...


Kat Kennedy If the male protagonist hadn't been involved it really would have been a great book.

I dunno. I won't go pick up any sequels because I can't be arsed but its a shame because, to me, everything but the lead character and the author trying to be witty was great.


message 3: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana Neil Gaiman is one of those authors whose books I keep pushing down my TBR, even though I did enjoy his Stardust: Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie


Kat Kennedy All I can say is that I wouldn't be in a RUSH to read it if I were you. I haven't read Stardust though.

Someone made the comment, and I think it's quite true, that Neverwhere is basically Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy but in London sewers instead of space.

I don't think you'd be in any great loss to take this off your TBR list. Then again it wasn't really THAT bad.


message 5: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana Just for the record, I hated The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, so I am guessing you are correct:)


message 6: by Aerin (new)

Aerin This book is so massively overrated. Gaiman is so massively overrated.


message 7: by Aerin (new)

Aerin I actually liked the movie better. They did quite a bit of cool stuff on a really low budget.


message 8: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Give me a story about Marquis de Carabas and I will read it in a second. Honestly, fantastic character right there. Tell me I have to read another whiny missive about Richard Mayhew and I will likely stick hot pokers into my eyes first.

+1

I loved Door and the Marquis and wanted a story about THEM. Not Richard. I hated him. And the implicit and not-so-implicit misogyny with Jessica his fiancee made me really uncomfortable. The atmosphere was really nice, the worldbuilding was great, it's just such a shame there had to be this typical White Male Pale Blob of an exposition mule in it. That to me betrays its TV origins - no! we can't show all these fascinating people on their own! We have to have some kind of Viewer Stand-in who has to be white, male, and 18-35, so the audience can Identify. Bah.


message 9: by [deleted user] (last edited May 27, 2010 10:51AM) (new)

Nerd insights: Movie came first, weirdly, and IS kind of fun, mostly because the dude playing the Marquis rulez. Also, the Marquis de Carabas is the owner of Puss-in-Boots, from the original Charles Perrault stories. FTW!

I agree about this one being bad, mostly because I hate Richard Mayhew - so freaking milquetoast - and the characterization of the gf does not pass the sexist smell-test, imao. Have you tried Un Lun Dun? It's self-avowedly a take-off from Gaiman's Neverwhere, but it avoids some of Gaiman's missteps. Not all; there's still too much damn punning.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

Cross post Moira! Wow! Also, my Un Lun Dun link is misdirecting. Freaking GR.


message 11: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Also, the Marquis de Carabas is the owner of Puss-in-Boots, from the original Charles Perrault stories. FTW!

AWW YEAH

I agree about this one being bad, mostly because I hate Richard Mayhew - so freaking milquetoast - and the characterization of the gf does not pass the sexist smell-test, imao.

Great minds! Yeah, and for me at least tweedles Dee and Dum after a while were both too dull and too gory. The sacrifice of the little rat-girl for Our Noble Hero sucked, too. And I didn't like Hunter's (spoiler).

Have you tried Un Lun Dun?

I have not! Oh that looks fun (and the link did work).


Wealhtheow I haven't reread Neverwhere since I was a teen, but I saw a theatre production of it recently, and I was shocked to realize how boring and unnecessary a character Richard is. And even as a teen, I knew there was something fundamentally twisted about Richard becoming known as this Great Hero while taking credit for Hunter's work. It seemed to replicate the same sexist, racist, colonialist bs I'm used to in real life. Frustrating!

I did like Gaiman's The Graveyard Book better, but even in that context he slips up. I wish he'd educate himself and expand his world view a little more. When he started his career, what he was doing was pretty exciting and new. Now, it's just rehashings. Spread your wings, Neil!


message 13: by Ian (new)

Ian Tregillis I had exactly the same problem with the "protagonist" in this novel. This is, to date, the only Gaiman novel I've read, and was a little underwhelmed given that the man is such a rock star.

Ceridwen, I had no idea there was a Neverwhere movie. That explains a lot.


message 14: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Oh, Graveyard Book irritated me so very much. Even tho it was charmingly written and fun (Nob: "I want to learn about life and people by going to public school!" //FACEDESK).


message 15: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Ian wrote: "I had exactly the same problem with the "protagonist" in this novel. This is, to date, the only Gaiman novel I've read, and was a little underwhelmed given that the man is such a rock star. "

It's sadly consistently kind of a Thing with Gaiman - for me at least his settings and minor characters (especially the women) are a lot more riveting than the male protagonists. At least in the Sandman books the hero's moping and passivity were made fun of, and there were a LOT of other characters and stories, so he wasn't the sole focus. At least Coraline and Mirrormask had central female characters, even though those also had epically Bad Mommies (sigh).


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Ian wrote: "I had exactly the same problem with the "protagonist" in this novel. This is, to date, the only Gaiman novel I've read, and was a little underwhelmed given that the man is such a rock star."

Yeah, it's one of those BBC micro-budget things. It's not, like, brilliant or anything, and the fact that they used a Scottish harry coo as the Beast makes for some unintended comedy - but micro-budget! kind of Dr. Whoishly so! And much is filmed in the London Underground, and I just get off on that, totally.

I'm having a sad break-up with Neil - he used to be my boyfriend, on the strength of Sandman, which still ranks pretty darn high for me - but his later stuff is increasingly full of fail.


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

In Gaiman's defense, the story in Mirrormask was really directed by Dave McKean - I only know because Richard has this whole thing with McKean, and I've had to read/see everything associated with his work.


message 18: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Ceridwen wrote: "I'm having a sad break-up with Neil - he used to be my boyfriend, on the strength of Sandman, which still ranks pretty darn high for me - but his later stuff is increasingly full of fail. "

Yeah....I really inhaled American Gods and Graveyard Book and Neverwhere at first acquaintance, but they just haven't stood up at all well to rereadings. I'm a little afraid to reread Anansi Boys to find out that it falters too. (And nobody but me shares this opinion, but I think his short stories just don't work, technically. But I'm not a big fan of prose-poemy plotless stuff, so.)


message 19: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Ceridwen wrote: "In Gaiman's defense, the story in Mirrormask was really directed by Dave McKean"

Yeah, I know they collaborated, but it sounds like Gaiman at least wrote the screenplay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MirrorMask

//eyeroll

Gaiman wrote the screenplay in February 2002, and said that they always knew that it would be a coming of age story about a girl on a quest, but that later they learned "that it really was just the story of the relationship between a girl and her mother."

I don't know much about McKean (other than his stuff is gorgeous), but Neil has done the Villainess Bad Mommy thing before. In general his female characters are pretty lacking (Door was kinda kickass but she was elfin and waiflike and had OPAL eyes, &c &c).


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

Don't re-read Anasi Boys. That one faltered on the first read, for me.


message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

OPAL EYES *facedesk*


message 22: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Ceridwen wrote: "Don't re-read Anasi Boys"

SIGH


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

Richard wants to be Dave McKean, or at least just wear his skin.


message 24: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Ceridwen wrote: "OPAL EYES *facedesk*"

FIRE OPALS, NO SRSLY.

Richard realized that he could not tell what color her eyes were. They were not blue, or green, or brown, or gray; they reminded him of fire opals: there were burning greens and blues, and even reds and yellows that vanished and glinted as she moved.

Also, they are HUGE and her face is PALE and ELFIN. //sighs

Altho the movie does look nice and Whovian! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EnQ6G...


message 25: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell My love for McKean knows no bounds, to the point that I'd gladly skin him, don his rind as if he were the cover and I was the Gaiman book and then prance around, singing, "I'm Dave McKean! I'm Dave McKean! Gaiman, let's make some goddamn creepy art!" until the Feds showed up and forcibly removed the McRemains in the hopes of a proper burial.

//snorts tea Ow.


Kat Kennedy I kind of want to see this movie now - but only because Ceridwen commented that the guy playing Marquis is awesome.

I agree Moira - why the sadsack stand in? Marquis could easily have carried this book by himself!

Tatania - you hated HhGthG? How? Why? HOW!?!?!
I love the first two. The last book was just stupid to the infinite and ended depressingly.


Michael The Sandman was amazing. But, despite that amazingness, I found Neverwhere so weak that it took me years to read any of his other novels. I still haven't been compelled to read anything since Stardust, and it doesn't sound like I'm missing too much.

But he keeps reeling in those awards, doesn't he?


Kat Kennedy I don't think you're missing much, Michael. I gave the book to my husband wondering if maybe it was some "Guy thing" that I just didn't get. However, he informed me after twenty chapters that if he read another page then he couldn't be responsible for any physical damaged he unwittingly performed on the book.

I don't get why all the awards but then again, I have never read The Sandman.


Michael Maybe The Sandman was just a fluke. Some authors have one good book in them and keep trying to write something as good for the rest of their career. That doesn't explain why so many people adore him, though. Maybe it's just his marketing department. Or maybe its his hair.


Kat Kennedy Haha! Yes, no woman can truly resist the messy flop hair!

On second thought... yes, yes I can!

I don't know why he's so popular. My theory is because he speaks to a clique of men who are so rarely represented in media and literature. The modern, unsure, disassociated male that is neglected in a world where men are supposed to either be muscled and violent, brooding and obsessive or immortal and rich - or possibly all six.

There doesn't seem to be enough places for them as the hero or the romantic lead.

This is just my half-assed theory anyway.


Michael Hmm, I think you might be onto something there, although that seems to be the ONLY guy represented by comedies. Gaiman's representations are kinder and more fully actualized, (i.e. less stupid) and that has to be an attraction for a lot of people.

I feel like Gaiman is the closest thing literature has to a Tim Burton, although I think his work is a lot less impressive. Could that be part of the equation? Or am I just making shit up now?


message 32: by Aerin (new)

Aerin I feel like Gaiman is the closest thing literature has to a Tim Burton, although I think his work is a lot less impressive. Could that be part of the equation? Or am I just making shit up now?

No, I think that's a good point, although I think Clive Barker does the Burton thing better (have you ever read The Thief of Always? That's just screaming for a Burton adaptation). I've always said Gaiman is a poor man's Clive Barker.


Michael Ooh, I like that. They're more similar than I realized, once Barker started his dark fantasy phase. I have read The Thief of Always, which was a fun one.

I thought Stardust was a better book than the Barker books I've read, but I haven't read that much by Barker. Gaiman's definitely a more sterile, PG-13 version of Barker, with a lot of the same obsessions.


Natasha I think your review is spot on. I had a hard time not rolling my eyes when Richard would say something stupid. I would think "get with program, Richard! Stop asking stupid questions!" I think, even at the very end of the book, he didn't become the "hero" I wanted him to be. The character development bothered me most. I didn't fall in love with any of the characters, which is a shame. And I also agree that the book did much better towards the second half.


message 35: by Jenn (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jenn I agree with you. I usually like Neil's writing but I'm having to force myself to read this one. (It's for book club). The quote you mentioned above was irritating to me as well. I had read it several times just so I could separate who was who because the way it runs together is not only not clever but confusing.


message 36: by Sara (new) - added it

Sara Hemenway I've been stuck at 35% for almost a year. I think I will take it off my "currently reading" list. I HATE Richard Mayhew. :p


message 37: by Sara (new) - added it

Sara Hemenway Ok, wait... only since February. I ADDED it a year ago. But it seriously feels like a year since I read any of it lol.


Emily I would love to see a spinoff series (or even just a novella) centered on the Angel Islington. I LOVE that character, he's so intriguing yet so frightening at the same time.


Ronyell Awesome review Kat!


message 40: by Matt (last edited Jul 08, 2014 07:44AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Matt Excellent review. Almost agree with all of it. Especially how brilliantly imaginative the world Gaiman creates is. I just wish the story might have been slightly darker and more sinister.


message 41: by Ann (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ann Marie Couldn't agree more. I felt like Gaiman wrote this on a very tight deadline without much love. Very disappointed after American Gods. Hated most of the names as well. The Lady Door who...surprise, can open doors? Seriously.


Cayven Valentine totally agree with your review.


Jonathan Pongratz I think the first twenty pages were the worst, and I also found myself nearly abandoning the book. However, it does get better after that.


message 44: by Tom (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tom Totally summed up my thoughts


Menoedh I agree with the things you said about this book. Richard being a whiny weakling, plot is good enough with nice London below detail etc though I don't quite "hate" it the way you seem to. It's more like a "oh he's that kind of a protagonist? Bummer, but meh, fine." Anyway, shouldn't you put a spoiler warning on this review?


Carmen YES. Thank you SO much for capturing exactly what I thought of this novel. I agree with you 100%.


Ibrinar You agree with the Hitchhiker's Guide? Huh I guess there must be something you are both seeing but I'm not sure what I didn't find them very similiar.

(And I never understood why Hitchhiker's Guide is so popular, it is decent with some decent humor and the setting is relatively creative. But well comedy seldom works for everyone.)


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