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?