Writing My Life

Now and Then


… it’s about THAT setting, part 3 …

This is a final look at how setting can become one of a book’s characters – sort of. Part 1 examined  The Given Day by Dennis LeHane and part 2 reviewed The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. The first book is historical fiction, and the second is non-fiction. I found that time and place was so influential in these 2 books, as well as the one I’m writing about today, that I connected with the setting as much as I did with the characters. I know this happens often, but inadvertently choosing three books in a row with this commonality grabbed my attention, and I decided to write a little about each one. I guess the experience reinforced the importance of placing or finding a story in the near-perfect place is critical.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere is written by Neil Gaiman, an “out-there” British writer who pens books for children, adolescents, and adults. Bazaar as his writing might be for some,  The Graveyard Book won the 2009 Newbery Award, which is “awarded each year by the Association for Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” Another one of his popular children books is Coraline, which was made into a movie that received Academy Award nominations. Anyway, I’ve always thought of him as a Tim Burton type that appeals to some but not all.

Because I’m not a big fantasy fan, I’ve never read any of his books, but I enjoyed the movie  Stardust, based upon one of his novels. I guess that’s why I picked Neverwhere off the library shelves. Neverwhere is particularly interesting because readers can check out or buy a traditional novel, a graphic novel, or an audio book that is the “author’s preferred text.”  I listened to the audio-book and am on the waiting list to check out the novel because I want to find the differences between Neil’s audio version – which he narrates beautifully – and the “editor’s” version. My guess is that the audio book includes more cussing. I did look over the Amazon peek-a-boo version of the graphic novel, and saw that published pages followed the story with VERY scary pictures and without Gaiman’s skilled narrative. That’s one thing I miss in graphic novels – the great descriptions of characters and setting.

Published in 1996, this novel, like most if not all of Gaiman’s works, is a fantasy … for adult readers. I found Gaiman’s writing is so good that even a non-fantasy fan enjoys the ride. His characters are intriguing and the plots are fun, if not always easy, to follow. Much like the mazes he inserted in Neverwhere. The book’s main  setting is a parallel universe/city of London, and as the main character Richard Mayhew winds his way through this landing place of all things lost, he embarks upon the hero’s quest to find his way home and help and be helped along the way. He and his companion Door, the survivor of a deadly attack against her family, encounter a mishmash of historical LondonS, dating back to the city’s origins. Because of the challenges of each era, London’s history blesses and curses their adventures.

The upside-down world filled with rats, garbage, and discarded belongings as well as people who have fallen through the cracks, reminded me of the LandFILL of Oz  If Oz was inspired by the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (a.k.a. The White City), this London was more like the REAL Chicago of that time – dark, dank, and dirty! Gaiman’s characters even make references to Dorothy and her companions’ journey to find the wizard. Mayhew and his friends, however, are searching for an angel called Islington. Because this world is topsy-turvy, the Christ-figure is the despicable Marquis de Carabas, and the arch-villain is the angel.

The titles of both Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book refer to the stories’ settings, but at least in Neverwhere, place is such a large part of the action and outcome that it goes beyond mere setting. It assumes a personality like all the other characters, a complex personality made up of traits both good and bad, strong and weak, ugly and beautiful.