Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Title:  Neverwhere

Author:  Neil Gaiman

Paperback: 400 pages

Date Published:  1996

Publisher:  Harper Torch (div of HarperCollins)

ISBN:  9780380789016

“So what are you after?”  Richard asked Hunter.  The three of them were walking, with extreme care, along the bank of an underground river.  The bank was slippery, a narrow path along dark rock and sharp masonry.  Richard watched with respect as the gray water rushed and tumbled, within arm’s reach.  This was not the kind of river you fell into and got out of again; it was the other kind.

“After?”

“Well,” he said.  “Personally, I’m trying to get back to the real London, and my old life.  Door wants to find out who killed her family.  What are you after?”  They edged along the bank, a step at a time, Hunter in the lead.  She said nothing in reply.  The river slowed and fed into a small underground lake.  They walked beside the water, their lamps reflecting in the black surface, their reflections smudged by the river mist.  “So what is it?”  asked Richard.  He did not expect any kind of answer.

Hunter’s voice was quiet and intense.  She did not break her step as she spoke.  “I fought in the sewers beneath New York with the great blind white alligator-king.  He was thirty feet long, fat from sewage and fierce in battle.  And I bested him, and I killed him.  His eyes were like huge pearls in the darkness.”  Her strangely accented voice echoed in the underground, twined in the mist, in the night beneath the Earth.

“…And I shall slay the Beast of London.  They say his hide bristles with swords and spears and knives stuck in him by those who have tried and failed.  His tusks are razors, and his hooves are thunderbolts.  I will kill him, or I will die in the attempt.”

-Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, pages 226-227

Meet Richard, Richard Mayhew… Dick.  Mild-mannered, Scottish born, hard-working London resident and all-around nice guy.  Richard is affianced to the eager, forward-thinking and career-driven (read:  controlling and pushy) Jessica who sees Richard as a project:  lots of potential, but also lot of work.  Richard’s life is dull, he has no family, and Gary, his co-worker, is his only friend… other than Jess… I mean Jessica.

Then, as he and Jessica are on the way to dinner with her boss, they come upon a strange girl, hurt and bleeding, in need of help.  Richard is compelled to help the girl, to which Jessica gives him an ultimatum:  Either he leaves the girl for someone else to help, or he can consider their engagement over.  Richard has no choice BUT to help and leave Jessica to dine with her employer alone.

However, in helping the girl, whose name is Door, he quickly finds his life is turned upside down, literally.  Suddenly, he no longer exists.  People don’t seem to see or hear him.  Cabs won’t stop for him.  Even the people in his office don’t know him and his desk and all his cubicle’s contents are gone.  Bewildered and feeling alone, he returns to his apartment to take a bath, only to be surprised by his landlord showing his place to a couple looking to rent.  He is forced to return to London Below to find Door and to find a way to get his life back.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is like Alice in Wonderland meets Grimms Fairy Tales, with a bit of Wizard of Oz and an ending reminiscent of El Dorado.  London Below is like a walk through history.  Every thing and everyone who has slipped through the cracks and has been lost, overlooked, and forgotten can be found in London Below.  Creatures lurk in the sewers and under subway platforms, and everyone is dangerous. 

Neverwhere is an urban fairy tale, with the teeth to scare you and fill your inner child with wonder.  I really enjoy Gaiman’s writing style, as well as his ability to weave a magical web of a story that draws you in and keeps you entranced.  When it was exciting and intriguing, I couldn’t put it down; I had to know what happened next.  And when it wasn’t being scary, I didn’t wantto put the book down because I was enraptured by the story itself.  The idea that somewhere Roman soldiers who deserted are huddled around a campfire, telling dirty jokes in Latin.

With Neverwhere, Gaiman flexes his imaginative muscles, but it’s more than just a fantasy book.  It has  a mystery to solve, both Richard and Door mature through their adventures, and prejudices have to be overcome if they want to survive.  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is a well-crafted story and I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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Ever wonder where Gaiman gets his story ideas? In this vid clip, he reveals his source :-)

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Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Title:  Haunted

Author:  Chuck Palahniuk

Paperback:  412 pages

Date Published:  2006

Publisher:  Vintage

ISBN:  9780099497172

Looking back, it was Mr. Whittier’s stand that we’re always right.

“It’s not a matter of right and wrong,” Mr. Whittier would say.

Really, there is no wrong.  Not in our own minds.  Our own Reality.

…In your own mind, you are always right.  Every action you take – what you do or say or how you choose to appear – is automatically right the moment you act.

…We’re all condemned to be right.  About everything we can consider.

In this shifting, liquid world where everyone is right and any idea is right the moment you act on it, Mr. Whitier would say, the only sure thing is what you promise.

“Three months, you promised,” Mr. Whittier says through the steam of his coffe.

It’s then something happens, but not much.

In that next look, you feel your asshole get tight.  Your fingers fly to cover your mouth.

Miss America is holding a knife in one hand.  With her other hand, she grips the knot of Mr. Whittier’s necktie, pulling his face up toward her own.  Mr. Whittier’s coffee, dropped, spilled steaming-hot on the floor.  His hands hang, shaking, swirling the dusty air at ech side.

Saint Gut-Free’s silver bag of instant crepe Suzette drops, spilled out on the cornflower-blue carpet, the sticky red cherries and reconstituted whipped cream.

And the cat runs over for a taste.

Her eyes almost touching Mr. Whittier’s, Miss America says, “So I’m right if I kill you?”

-Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk, pages 60-61

Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk is the stories and poems within a bigger story that is the shadow of the truth.  It is the camera behind the camera behind the camera, as is often said in the book.  It’s the story of a collection of strangers who have all answered an ad about a writer’s retreat, but find it’s a lot more than they bargained for.  Mr. Whittier, the operator of the “retreat” tells them that they’ve promised to write and, for the  next three months, he intends to hold them to that promise.  However, there is an unfortunate hiccup in the plan when Whittier dies from a busted gut after eating the equivalent of 10 freeze-dried turkey dinners.  Now the strangers are on their own, locked in an abandoned hotel/theater, each with their own guilt and story to haunt them.

From a psychological/sociological point of view, this book is fascinating.  It’s  a bit like Lord of the Fliesin that it is the witness of the de-evolution of society.  How depraved can people get?  How little humanity will be left at the end of the three month period?  When food runs out (because they’ve all sabotaged the supplies) what will they eat?  That they are all there as writers and artists, what will they do with this time they are given?

It is a dark look into the human soul.  The Missing Link states that it is how we treat the animals around us that shows our humanity… the cat disappears shortly after he says this.  Director Denial makes a statement again and again that people turn each other into objects, then turn objects into people.  Points are made that humans have  a low threshhold of tolerance to boredom, that we seek out a villain to blame all our troubles on, and that we thrive on chaos, drama and disaster.  There’s no joy like the joy found in another’s suffering.  That all this drama and difficulty is to prepare us for our final act, our own death.

While these are the concepts that drew me to this book, I found the book itself a bit on the boring side.  I kept falling asleep… though, that may have been because I couldn’t nibble while reading due to the nauseatingly disgusting content.  Haunted has more canabalism in it that the Donner Party was ever accused of.  The graphic descriptions of the toilets backing up, the cooking of a baby, and decomposition were enough to make me gag. 

This is only my second Palahniuk book, Rant being my first, and I’m aware he can be a bit disgusting and warped.  One review I read said that Hauntedwas for the true Palahniuk fans.  I’ve got a few more of his books on Mt. TBR, but I think I’m going to wait for a while before reading another by him… let my stomach settle.  It’s definitely NOT for the faint of heart.

Even though it was gut-churningly gross, the intellectual appeal was enough to keep me reading on.  I give Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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One of my favorite parts of my Border’s newsletters is the shortlist.  When Palahniuk’s book Snuff came out, the following video was his shortlist offering.  I think it was this vid that made me want to read more Palahniuk (as well as pick up Clown Girl)

Booking Through Thursday -Doomsday

Booking Through Thursday

What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable?

Whether it’s a local book shop, your town library, or an Internet shop … what would you do if, suddenly, they were out of business? Devastatingly, and with no warning? Where would you go for books instead? What would you do? If it was a local business you would try to help out the owners? Would you just calmly start buyingfrom some other store? Visit the library in the next town instead? Would it be devastating? Or just a blip in your reading habit?

Let’s see… my favorite place to go for books is the Internet.  Requesting ARCs and reviewer copies from the Publishers and authors and accepting them from the same, as well.  When it comes to the idea of the  Internet suddenly going out of business, I think I’m safe.   Barring the EMP that results from nuclear war, I don’t think I have to worry about the ‘net going away without warning.

HOWEVER, if I don’t pay my bill, I could lose my access at home.  Mild withdraw might ensue (probably wouldensue), but there is still the library’s computer farm.  One hour a day, surrounded by pimply-faced, obnoxiously loud teenagers whose favorite phrases are, “dude! that’s so gay,” and “you’re an F-ing A-hole (without the hyphens.. you know what I mean)”, and whose favorite site is YouTube.  These little “patrons” are why our local library had to hire an off-duty police officer to patrol the library, but that is a rant for another day.

Back to the question at hand… in the interest of full participation, I’m going to use a more likely scenario.  What if Borders suddenly, and without warning, shut down my Waldenbooks?  That would seriously suck.  I would be forced to troll the Wal-mart book rack for the new releases (have you seen their “selection”?), or pay full sticker at the grocery store… YIKES!  I ain’t paid $30 for a new book since college!  I get pissy about it if I have to pay $15 (like Kafka on the Shore, which I still have not read, and I think I had a coupon for THAT, too.   I would be forced to waiting and hoping for it to pop up on BookMooch or PBS, and now with the new reserve system on BM I might never see one.

Thanks for this question…. now I’ll have nightmares for a week.  My one consolation is that Mt. TBR would keep me in the read for a year or so, long enough for a Books-a-million to move to town (not likely, since there’s a store 30 minutes away, and people in my town will drive there).

Don’t forget to sign up to win a $20 Borders gift card!

Cell by Stephen King

Cell cover art

Title: Cell
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Pocket Books (division of Simon & Schuster)
Publication Date: December 2006
ISBN: 1416524517

The phone-crazies own the days; when the stars come out, that’s us.  We’re like vampires.  We;ve been banished to the night.  Up close we know each other because we can still talk; at a little distance we can be pretty sure of each other by the packs we wear and the guns more and more of us carry; but at a distance, the one sure sign is the waving flashlight beam.  Three days ago we not only ruled the earth, we had survivor’s guil about all the other species we’d wiped out on our climb to the nirvana of round-the-clock cable news and microwave popcorn.  Now we’re the Flashlight People.

          -Page 161 of Cell by Stephen King 

The apocalypse doesn’t begin with the deafening boom of war, but with the quiet ring of a cell phone.

 According to GEARlog, as of Nov. 2007 82% of United States citizens have cell phones, a number of  1/4 billion.  In fact, the United States is second only to China in number their number.  With that number in mind, imagine what would happen if some tech-terrorist broadcasted a virus, relaying it through the cell towers,  and anyone using a cell phone had the hard drive of their brains stripped to the core programming of violent, animalistic survival.  Those on their cells when The Pulse, as it’s called in the book, is activated and they become raging, psychotic, murdeous beasts ripping the throats out of those around them with their teeth and tearing the limbs off people with their bare hands.  If you were witnessing this, your first instict would be to grab your cell phone and call someone, getting an earful of the mind-scrambling Pulse and going mad because of it.

This is what happens to Clayton Riddell on the afternoon of his life, after he’s sold his graphic novel series and has achieved sudden weath.  As he sits on a park bench reflecting on his turn of luck and enjoying a beautiful October afternoon in Boston, he observes a man in a business suit biting a dog’s ear and ripping it off the side of the screaming animal’s head.

Clay is able to survive the initial event and hook up with a few other “normies” and head north to Maine, where Clay’s estranged wife and his 11-year-old son John live.  Reuniting with John is the only thing on Clay’s mind.  Two things plague Riddell, though: One, the ever-present fear John had been on his own cell phone when it happened, and Two,  the “phoners” are evolving, gaining new and unusual powers.

When Clayton’s band of survivors kill a flock of the phoners, they find themselves public enemy number one and are driven to the place of their intended doom by The Raggedy Man, spokesman for the new world.  Can they survive?  Will Clayton find his son?  if he does, What will he find left of the boy?

Stephen King’s Cell is remeniscent of several dystopic/apocalyptic books and stories, including King’s Mist and Stand.  In Cell we find Mrs. Carmody reincarnated in “Bible Thumping Bertha” as they make the exodus out of Boston, and we see a version of Randall Flagg in The Raggedy Man.  I was also reminded of McCarthy’s The Roadby the interactions and relationships of the survivors.  The visciousness of the phoners (they are very much like zombies) made me think of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.  Though not a dystopic, The way the book ends reminds me of The Kite Runner by Khaled Housseini.  Even with the similarities, and perhaps because of them, Cell is is a gripping page turner that you won’t be able to put down!

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