I’m steadily working my way through the nation’s 100 favourite books according to World Book Night’s poll in 2011. Find out more about this challenge and check my progress here.
It’s a really good job I love Neil Gaiman’s writing – if it wasn’t my cup of tea, this challenge would be a complete nightmare. This is the third of the five on this list, and it’s by far the most ambitious and impressive so far. It’s an absolutely massive book, almost the American equivalent of Neverwhere in the way that it takes an average person and plunges them into an underworld they never knew existed.
Gaiman has written the story of the gods that followed their pilgrims to America, and then languished, forgotten and unworshipped. The Norse gods are the stars of the show, but some of the obscure Russian gods are by turns hilariously or ethereally diverting. The main character, Shadow, is unapologetically severe and aloof, but all the same he proves himself to be a man worthy of our attention. Despite the daunting length of the book, and the epic journey that Shadow takes, I remained engaged and interested in the sprawling narrative.
Two Neil Gaiman books down, three to go! Stardust was a great book to power through and I read it over two consecutive days. There aren’t many books like that left now so I’m trying to save them up! Stardust is definitely more of a full on fantasy book than Neverwhere; it lacks the splashes of cold, grey, London that make that book more relatable. The flipside of that, though, is that it leaves Stardust free to float straight up, firmly into fantasy land, light as a feather, fun and frothy and fabulous.
One of the things I firmly lack in pretty much any capacity is an imagination. Stardust left me insanely jealous of Gaiman, and his mind that must leap from idea to idea to outlandish idea. A fallen star that turns out to be not a lump of rock but a petulant young woman; a candle that lets you travel miles with a single step; a woman held captive in the shape of a bird; a trio of witch sisters that age hideously unless they feast on the heart of a happy star. The story took me on a trail through a series of fantastic locations, each more imaginative and unreal, yet I was completely invested in the story the whole time. I’m already looking forward to my next Gaiman instalment…
I haven’t really checked this thoroughly, so I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Neil Gaiman is the most popular author on the list with no less than five entries. This blindsided me a bit as I know he’s popular, and I’ve read this, Stardust and American Gods before, but I really didn’t think he was that popular. And I like his books, but I’m not sure I’d place them in my top ten, as so many people obviously have. Still, I definitely don’t mind reading Neverwhere again; it’s a good, entertaining read.
Gaiman’s books are really good in a different kind of way to the others on the list. His characters are straight out of fairy tales and the settings are outlandish, but the themes are universal. Neverwhere in particular has a very strong sense of time and place: young professional Richard Mayhew’s life is recognisable to thousands of readers because it is their life. When he is plunged into a part of London he’s never seen before, London Below, this becomes something of a coming of age journey for him, interspersed with some fish out of water comedy, extreme violence and clever puns.
I say read this, and when you’re done, give it to the Londoner in your life. They’ll love all the place related puns, and also they’ll never be able to hear the announcer say ‘Mind the gap’ without shivering slightly. Ha.