Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Back From Neverwhere (What A Great Trip!)

A funny thing happened to me this week. I picked up an ordinary-looking book and took a peek inside, thinking that I would have no trouble setting it aside to go work on other things if I needed to. And in the beginning, I did just that. I read for an hour, maybe two, and went to cook dinner.

The next day, I came back and read a little more. I could feel the book calling me, like an itch I couldn't quite reach, but it wasn't impossible to resist. I could still stop whenever I wanted. Or so I thought.

On the third day, something mysterious and wonderful happened. I read for a couple of hours before coming to the startling realization that I couldn't stop reading. The plot had gripped me, the setting mesmerized me, and more than anything, I was irrevocably in love with the characters. Even the slimy, detestable ones. Those were my favorites.

I read until I was forced to stop, until something urgent like the sound of my son crying or the smell of burnt chili demanded it. But even then, I was reluctant to put the book down, and I found myself searching for every available opportunity to pick it up again. I read into the wee hours of the morning every night this week until I finished it yesterday evening. By then, the characters felt very much like living, breathing people, people who had come into my living room and told me their adventures over a cup of chai tea. They left when I closed the book, but their presence lingered, haunting me. They haunt me still.

The book was Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. If you haven't read it, the only way I can think to describe it is to call it a grown-up version of Alice in Wonderland, part mystery, part fantasy and part suspense. For me, what made it so delightful was Gaiman's ability to partner darkness with whimsy and the logical with the bizarre. Croup and Vandemar are some of the most engaging villains I've seen in a long time, while Door and Hunter made some pretty exceptional heroines. Finishing the last page was bittersweet; a fitting end to the story, yet part of me also wanted to have more adventures in London Below. After reading Neverwhere, I doubt I will ever look at a doorway the same way again.

Every reader has their Neverwhere, a tale that absorbed you into it and surprised the stuffing out of you in the process. And we writers should want to create a Neverwhere, to make our readers feel that same sense of bittersweet satisfaction I felt when I put that book down for the last time. What is your Neverwhere? Which author brought his or her characters into your living room, and how do you plan to do the same thing for someone else?


  1. Isn't it depressing when you read the last page? I want to write an absorbing book like that that grips readers, shakes 'em around like a dog with a bone, and won't let 'em go. :) Great post.

  2. Angie,
    Yes, it is a little sad because part of me doesn't want the story to end. I like that aspect of it, though. It means the author did his or her job right! I want to do that, too! I'm glad you liked the post :)

  3. Ooo! I think we have that one here somewhere! Sad that I have so many darned books unread that I have to check, isn't it?

    Naw, it really isn't. I LOVE being able to walk to the shelves and reach for just about anything there knowing it's just waiting to be read. :))

  4. Oh! What a compliment to the writer! -

    I love it when a writer makes the characters a part of my life - when I can feel them, when, as you said, they are in the room with you!

    I need to check out that book...

  5. Incredible post. There have been a few books that have sucked me in like that - Dean Koontz's The Watchers was such a book. I grabbed every available second I could to read that book. The Book Thief was another one I couldn't put down.

    The challenge to write a book like that is daunting, however. I hope I can do it.

  6. Lori,
    What a blessing to have so many books right at your fingertips! My parents were avid readers too, and I think that deeply influenced my decision to become a writer. After all, the best writers love to read!

  7. Kathryn,
    Yes, do check out the book! You won't be disappointed. Plus, the movie Coraline (comes out Feb 6, I think) is based on a book by the same author, Neil Gaiman. Happy reading!

  8. Melissa,
    Thanks for the compliment! I hope to write books of that level as well. I think every writer does. Thanks for the book recommendations, too! I'll definitely check those out, and I can't wait for the Just Write Challenge! I signed up today :)

  9. Recently, Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD sucked me in. It was soooo frustrating, because I had a ton of things to do and couldn't read it in one big gulp. Finally, last night I was awake until I don't want to tell you what time to finish the book. Wow. Loved it.

  10. Anita,
    It's funny, I wasn't all that interested in reading THE ROAD when I first heard what it was about, but so many people have recommended it to me that I'm changing my mind. I guess that proves the value of word-of-mouth, huh? Thanks for the suggestion. I think I'll check it out after all!

  11. L.C. - Can you send me an email with your email addy? I need it so I can sign you up for the Just Write Challenge blog! :-)

    My address is melissaamateis at earthlink dot net


  12. L.C.:

    THE ROAD is not my usual thing, but once I got past the first two pages, I was hooked. Two pages, that's all. It's a book that will stay with me forever.

  13. LC, I have this philosophy - keep books on your shelves you've not read. That way you're not just storing them. :))

    I found it! Put it in my "to read" list.