Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere (review)

What would you do if you came walking down a street and saw a young woman lying hurt on the sidewalk? Would you stop to help her and carry her to your home if she asked you not to call an ambulance? If you said yes to this question, I’m sorry to say that your answer is wrong! Really really wrong! At least if you have a life and maybe a family you care about.

Because that is exactly what Richard Mayhew does. He finds a hurt woman, he takes her to his home to help her – and because of this random act of kindness, he’s thrown into a life and an existence he had no idea existed even though it was right beneath his feet.

The girl he helped, was Door. Door comes from the London Below and if you associate too much with people and places from London Below, your existence in London Above disappears. People stop seeing you, you loose your job and your apartment – you’re simply forgotten. And that’s what happens to Richard. He helps Door escape from the very nasty Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar and he takes a message from her to the Marquis de Carabas – and that’s it. Suddenly, he’s shunned in London Above and he has no choice but to go to London Below – like all the other things and people who have fallen through the cracks.

Once Richard is below, he’s dragged into Door’s life. And she does not lead a peaceful one. Instead she’s on the run from the people who slaughtered her entire family and trying to figure out why they did so. Various characters help and hinder this quest and it’s all good fun and gives the reader a lovely, entertaining time. And the rats, of course. And pigeons.

Besides a fascinating story that I really enjoyed, what I loved most about Neverwhere was the way, Gaiman uses London. Place names of various parts of London suddenly get a new – and often sinister – meaning when you know London Below. Names and phrases like Mind the Gap, Shepherd’s Bush and Knightsbridge are some of the things that get the Gaiman treatment. And of course the floating markets – people from London Below just meet up in places and have their markets and then pack it all down again and move on to a new location. One such location is Harrod’s and the description of this is just marvelous. London Above – and Below – will never be the same. It all reminds me of an Escher painting.

And I just love Gaiman’s writing. Here are a couple of quotes to showcase it: ‘To say that Richard was not very good at heights would be accurate, but would fail to give the whole picture. It would be like describing the planet Jupiter as bigger than a duck. True, as far as it went; but it could go further.’ (p. 43) and ‘He never had believed in angels. He was damned if he was going to start now. Still, it is much easier not to believe in something when it is not actually looking directly at you, and saying your name.’ (p. 154).

One of my favorite authors is Terry Pratchett. And another author who is rather new to me and who I’m really starting to like, is China Miéville. This book by Neil Gaiman reminds me of both these authors. There’s a lot of similarities between Neverwhere and Miéville’s UnLunDun and The City & The City. Both Neverwhere and UnLunDun takes place in London but in a different London than we know. And just as people don’t see the people from London Below in Neverwhere, people don’t see the other city and it’s inhabitants in The City & The City. There’s something so interesting to me about these co-existing cities and how they exemplify how we live our lives, not seeing what we’re not supposed to see and if you see something that other’s don’t, you’re automatically labelled insane. It could be really interesting to read all these three novels together to really compare them and dig into their themes and similarities – and their unique aspects as well.

The similarities with Terry Pratchett is clearly seen in the humor. There are sentences here where it could almost have been Pratchett writing. No wonder that Pratchett and Gaiman wrote a book together – but big wonder that I didn’t particularly like it … I think I need to reread Good Omens at one point.

One other thing that fascinates me about this book is, that it originally was a tv series and then Gaiman adapted it into a novel. Right now, so many books are made into movies – Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi, Les Misérables, The Hobbit, Midnight’s Children – but it’s rarely the other way around, I think. I really want to watch this series (and all those movies…!). But I wonder – I prefer reading the book before the movie … but if the book is based on the tv series, should you read the book first or watch the series???

Anyway, I digress. What I really wanted to say with this review is, that Neil Gaiman is living up to my expectations and that he has taken a big step closer to be added to my small list of favorite authors and that I loved reading this book.

  • Title: Neverwhere
  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Publisher: BBC Books
  • Year: 1996
  • Pages: 287 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

If you liked this novel, you might also like Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, anything by Terry Pratchett or The City & The City and Un Lun Dun by China Miéville.

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Being Bad

So remember how I wrote that I didn’t feel like buying books anymore? Yeah, that’s over. Very very over. See, the thing is, about a month ago it was my birthday. I got some great gifts – among them three books I haven’t even blogged about yet. On top of that, I got some charms for a bracelet. Unfortunately, I got three identical. Luckily, I could exchange two of these for money and buy books with. So without further ado, here’s both the books I got for my birthday as well as the books I’ve just bought.

Torben Munksgaard: Sort Hund (Title in English: Black Dog)

So Sort Hund is Torben Munksgaard’s third novel. Torben was in the same year as me at university and I know how much he wanted to be a writer so I’m so happy that he succeeded. This novel is about Bernhard who’s unemployed. One day he steals a dog because he’s lonely. The dog belonged to the wealthy Albert whose wife leaves him when the dog goes missing. The dog takes Bernhard new places and soon he meets the woman of his dermas whereas Albert’s life takes a turn for the worse. Destiny? Coincidence?

Andrew Taylor: The Anatomy of Ghosts

My brother bought me this for my birthday because he thought I would like it. I had never heard of either the book or it’s author before but it sounds very interesting.

1786, Jerusalem College Cambridge.

The ghost of Sylvia Whichcote is rumoured to be haunting Jerusalem since disturbed fellow-commoner, Frank Oldershaw, claims to have seen the dead woman prowling the grounds.

Desperate to salvage her son’s reputation, Lady Anne Oldershaw employs John Holdsworth, author of The Anatomy of Ghosts – a stinging account of why ghosts are mere delusion – to investigate. But his arrival in Cambridge disrupts an uneasy status quo as he glimpses a world of privilege and abuse, where the sinister Holy Ghost Club governs life at Jerusalem more effectively than the Master, Dr Carbury, ever could.

And when Holdsworth finds himself haunted – not only by the ghost of his dead wife, Maria, but also Elinor, the very-much-alive Master’s wife – his fate is sealed. He must find Sylvia’s murderer or the hauntings will continue. And not one of them will leave the claustrophobic confines of Jerusalem unchanged.

The Complete Illustrated Lewis Carroll

Well, as the title say, this is the complete and illustrated version of all of Lewis Carroll’s work. Here we have Alice Adventures in WonderlandThrough the Looking-Glass & What Alice Found ThereSylvie and BrunoSylvie and Bruno ConcludedRhyme and Reason as well as Miscellaneous Works. I don’t even know half of these – all I know is Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass & What Alice Found There. I’m not even sure if I’ve ever read Alice but now I have the chance, thanks to my brother.

Patrick Rothfuss: The Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two)

I have such high hopes for this series so I’ve been putting off reading the first one because I want to read them together. I don’t know if I can wait ’till the third one comes out but now, at least, I have the two first. The third volume is due out May 1st 2013. And btw, I love the covers to my editions!

My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.

The man was lost. The myth remained. Kvothe – the dragon-slayer, the renowned swordsman, the most feared, famed and notorious wizard the world has ever seen – vanished without warning and without trace. And even now, when he has been found, when darkness is rising in the corners of the world, he will not return.

But his story lives on and, for the first time, Kvothe is going to tell it…

Jonathan Safran Foer: Everything is Illuminated

I recently read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Loud and loved it. After finishing that, I knew I had to read more by Safran Foer and when I spotted Everything is Illuminated in the bookstore while shopping with my birthday money, I didn’t hesitate but grabbed it immediately. And since the main protagonist is named the same as the author, it reminded me of the Peter Høeg novel I read recently and the ambiguity between fiction and reality that can happen in such cases and which I find very interesting.

With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man — also named Jonathan Safran Foer — sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war; an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior; and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

John Irving: In One Person

I think I have raved so much about this novel that I hardly need to continue to do so before I actually pick up the book and read it and find out if it’s actually rave-worthy. Suffice to say, I bought it.

A compelling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love—tormented, funny, and affecting—and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character of In One Person, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a “sexual suspect,” a phrase first used by John Irving in 1978 in his landmark novel of “terminal cases,” The World According to Garp. His most political novel since The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving’s In One Person is a poignant tribute to Billy’s friends and lovers—a theatrical cast of characters who defy category and convention. Not least, In One Person is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself “worthwhile.”

China Miéville: Railsea

I’ve read Un Lun Dun and The City & The City and really liked them both. I’m so very impressed by Miéville’s creativity and his ability to use his creativity to create unique settings for his stories. So when I spotted his new novel, it too made it’s way home with me.

On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory. But no matter how spectacular it is, Sham can’t shake the sense that there is more to life than traveling the endless rails of the railsea–even if his captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing since it took her arm all those years ago. When they come across a wrecked train, at first it’s a welcome distraction. But what Sham finds in the derelict—a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible—leads to considerably more than he’d bargained for. Soon he’s hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham’s life that’s about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.

So that’s it for me. These were my new acquisitions. Such great books. But this also means that my to-read list is back up at 179 books again – not including The Flame Alphabet since I haven’t gotten it into my home yet. But 179 … so back to working my way back again… (But great, great books!!!)

Btw – if anyone is interested in a Wordsworth Classics version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (paperback), never been read, I have one to spare now I got the Hardcover complete and illustrated one. Let me know and it’s yours for the taking. 🙂

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May 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up

Oh, May, May, May. Where did you go? I don’t know what’s happening with my reading lately – I feel like I read a lot, but I’m just not getting anywhere or at least it takes me forever to finish books. And slowly I’m loosing the momentum I had build in the first three months of the year. I really have to do something to get my momentum back if I am to reach my goal this year. Only thing is, I’m not sure why I’m not finishing more books each month.

I read 1613 pages this month which is still a lot less than in the good first three months in the beginning of the year where I read more than 2000 pages as well as e-books and Clarissa. I really don’t know why I’m not keeping up the more than 2000 pages a month routine. I feel that I’m reading as much as ever – but either I have gotten slower or else I’m just not reading as much as I think I do.
  1. China Miéville: The City & The City. A sort of detective novel but nothing like I’ve ever read before. Miéville has the most amazing setting for his story and he uses it so well, never letting it overpower the story but still, making it all so interesting and fascinating. 4 stars.
  2. Diana Gabaldon: Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2). Jamie and Claire, two amazing characters, as well as intrigues at the royal French Court, a Scottish rebellion, traitors and heroes (sometimes the same thing). A great historical fiction/romance/sci fi novel… 4 stars.
  3. Peter Høeg: De måske egnede (Title in English: Borderliners). An attack on the Danish school system. Three children try to figure out what’s going on at their school, why certain students are allowed to go there. A slowly paced novel which delivers punches that leaves you staggering with surprise and shock. A great novel by one of the best living Danish authors. 4 stars.
Audiobooks finished:
  1. Lisa Shearin: Magic Lost, Trouble Found (Raine Benares #1). Action from the first page. Easily accessible light fantasy about the seeker Raine Benares and her knack for getting herself into trouble. 4 stars.
  2. Lisa Shearin: Armed & Magical (Raine Benares #2). So this one continues right in the same style as the first one so if you enjoy one, you’ll probably enjoy this one too. Only thing is it does become a bit repetitive. 3 stars.
This was my first month listening to audio books and I really liked it. Still, for me, they don’t count quite as high as books I actually read for several reasons. It’s easier to space out and forget to listen and I feel like I’m missing out on parts of the novel when I don’t read how the author spells names, places, objects. It annoys me when listening, it annoys me when I’m writing about my thoughts afterwards.
Even though I haven’t read all that much this month, I did manage to finish The Chunkster Challenge. That’s right. I’ve read 6 books with a page count of more than 450 pages this year. Actually, I’ve read 10 books that fitted the chunkster status but only 6 of them counted towards the challenge.
I finished my Clarissa reading on time this month! Ahead of time, even. And what’s even better, I actually enjoyed reading it! So hopefully I can keep this positive feeling when I continue with Clarissa for the rest of the year.
I also did very well on the Mount TBR Reading Challenge – all three books I read, was bought before 2012 and now, I’ve read 16 out of 25 for that challenge.
I’ve mentioned before that I have a challenge going with my boyfriend and my best friend. We each choose books for ourselves and then we also choose one book for each of the other two. This year I chose that my boyfriend should read The Hunger Games trilogy and my friend should read Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Anyway, I am so far doing okay on this challenge – I’ve read 22 out of 52 books, I’ve read 9 out of the 25 specific books I’ve chosen and my to-read list is lower than it was when the year began. However, my boyfriend doesn’t believe that I will make it. He doesn’t think that I will finish this challenge so we have just made a bet – if I make it, he is to give me any book I choose and if I doesn’t finish, he gets to choose a book. So I need to get this done! Not only is there a book on the line – there’s something much more important: pride! So I think I will focus on this challenge in June too. If you want to follow my progress, check out my challenge page.
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China Miéville: The City & The City (review)

Throughout history, there have been instances of split cities. Berlin was a split city from the 40s to 1989, Jerusalem still is a split city and so is Budapest. But none of the cities are split the way Beszel and Ul Qoma are, the two cities from the title of this novel. These two cities exist simultaneously, in the same space. When you walk down a street in one of these cities, you of course walk down a street in your own city – but you might also be walking down a street in another city with people from that city walking right next to you. People, you have been trained your whole life to not see, to unsee.

But what if there are places no one can see because they think they’re in the other city? What if this is sacrilege to talk about but one young American girl discovers this and end up dead? Is there a third city hiding in the cracks between these two cities?

Have I said too much? This is a hard novel to summarize because the best part of it is to slowly understand what’s happening, where it’s happening and how it all comes together. It’s half fantasy, half detective fiction. It’s two cities with two fashion styles, two types of architecture, two languages, two histories, two cultures … even though they are in exactly the same place. And a murder takes place. A murder that cleverly exploits the very tricky rules that are in place for these to cities to be able to coexist like this.

When you start reading this novel, it all feels very strange. How can you walk down a street and unsee the people coming against you or some of the buildings around you? And even though it stays strange throughout the book, Miéville takes this strangeness and exploits his setting to the fullest. The setting is extraordinary and it is key to the plot of the book. Miéville manages to use this very creative idea and create a very special book, a book like no other. Well, no other except other Miéville books.

Now, I’m no Miéville expert. I’ve read this and UnLunDun. Even though the latter is a ya-novel, there’s no question about these being written by the same author. They share some of the same themes as well with UnLunDun being the place where all the lost and broken things from London end up – including people. A city in the city, you might say.

We all unsee things in our lives – beggars, people with handicaps, things that gets to close to our sensitivities for one reason or other. We ignore things. I don’t know if this is what inspired Miéville or if he took the idea of split cities and developed it to it’s extreme. Either way, this is a piece of very intriguing speculative fiction handled by an author who is in complete control of his imaginative and very different setting and let this setting take his plot, a simple murder mystery, and elevate it to an amazing height. I’ve never read another author quite like Miéville and I definitely want to see more!

  • Title: The City & The City
  • Author: China Miéville
  • Publisher: Pan Books
  • Year: 2009
  • Pages: 373 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

Something to be excited about in 2012

Edited December 30th – because I find out something HUUUUUGE. John Irving is publishing a new novel already! YAY! So that’s definitely something to look forward in 2012! And – the next one is coming in 2015 so we don’t have to wait too long for the next one either!!! The new novel is called ‘In One Person’. It’s about a 60-year-old man and is written in first person – Irving’s first novel in first person since Owen Meany. I can’t wait… Bu tI have to wait till June 2012…

This also means that my list now contains 12 books I’m looking forward to in 2012 – very fitting!!

So I’ve been doing a bit of research and I’ve realized that there’s a lot of really interesting books scheduled for publishing in 2012. I’ve compiled a list here of some of these – the ones, I’m most interested in reading.

  • Donna Tartt. I don’t know the title of this book yet but I’m so excited. Donna Tartt has so far written two books, I’ve read and loved one of these. I plan on reading her first novel next year and hopefully also the new one. The Little Friend, her second novel, was really a great book so I have high hopes for both these reads.
  • Joyce Carol Oates: Mudwoman. I love Joyce Carol Oates. She’s an amazing writer and I hope to make it through all her novels one day – a pretty hard task since she has written so many and keeps writing at least one a year. This one has been compared to Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier so how can it be anything but great?
  • Stephen King: The Wind Through the Keyhole. King is one of my favorite authors – he’s a master story teller. This book is an installment in his Dark Tower series, a series that I unfortunately haven’t started yet but I’m looking forward to it. I hope to start reading Dark Tower next year – just as soon as I’ve finished 11.22.63 …
  • Hilary Mantel: Bring up the Bodies. I’ve read Mantel’s Booker Prize winning novel Wolf Hall and liked it. I felt like my knowledge of English history was seriously lacking and that got a bit in the way of my enjoyment. Mantel is an excellent author, the writing is superb – but just as with The Satanic Verses and War and Peace, it helps if you know something about the subject before reading the novel.
  • China Mieville: Railsea. Mieville is one of those authors who has the potential to be one of my favorite authors. I’ve only read UnLundun which I really liked, but it’s a ya novel so it’s not necessarily a good one to compare the rest of his work to. So next year, I plan on reading at least one other Mieville novel (The City and The City) and maybe this one as well. Or Kraken. I’ve been meaning to read that one for a while.
  • Terry Pratchett: The Long Earth. This is a sci-fi series from Pratchett that he had written a lot of before Discworld took off – and because of that, The Long Earth was abandoned. So this is something completely different. I’m definitely looking forward to this!
  • Michael Chabon: Telegraph Avenue. Chabon is another author who has the potential to become a favorite (btw – a third author who has this potential is Jonathan Franzen!). Anyway, I’ve read a couple of novels by Chabon (Wonder Boys and The Final Solution) and I’ve liked them but they haven’t lived completely up to my expectations. Still, I definitely want to read more by Chabon so this one made the list as well.
  • Anne Rice: The Wolf Gift. It’s Anne Rice. It’s werewolves. What’s not to like??? Actually, I’m not that big a fan of werewolves and I haven’t read that much by Rice but still – it has potential!
  • Freda Warrington: Grail of the Summer Stars. This is the third novel in the Aetherial Tales series. I’ve read the first and loved it. It was new and refreshing so of course this one made it on the list.
  • Carlos Ruis Zafon: The Prisoner of Heaven. I’ve read The Shadow of the Wind and it was amazing. This is the third in that series so really looking forward to moving on to the second and third installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.
  • Adrian Tchaikovsky: The Air War. This is the 8th installment in the Shadows of the Apt series. I’ve made it through the fourth first novels and they are really interesting and fascinating so until I finish this entire series, I’m looking forward to each new novel.

Hm – I think this list really shows that I need to get a lot of reading done in 2012. There’s a lot of books and series that I want to read and books I look forward to but where I need to read some other books before I can read them… I need to organize my reading better in 2012! More on that later!