Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: urban fantasy, science fiction
My Rating: ★★★★ (4.5)
Letting myself be ‘bitten by a radioactive Gaimanesque tale’ is probably one of the best things I did while exploring contemporary literature. Perhaps it did not transform me into some kind of a spandex-clad superheroine, but it gave me a peek into worlds of not-quite-dreams and not-quite-realities that made sci-fi and fantasy genres my cups of tea. These are worlds that only Neil Gaiman can bring to life. Once you get past their doorjambs, there’s no turning back. They are all damningly addictive.
Neverwhere, Gaiman’s first solo novel, is one of the bigger proofs that can easily justify his King of Fiction status in my personal lit hierarchy. It follows the story of young Brit everyman Richard Mayhew, whose life was turned upside down after helping a wounded girl on the sidewalk. He loses his fiancée, his job, his apartment, and nearly his mind. Suddenly it is as if he does not exist anymore—he has become semi-invisible, a non-person. He soon realizes that it is only this way with London Above. After he aided Door, the injured girl, he has unofficially linked his existence to London Below, a grittier and more dangerous parallel place to the one he has always known. In order to make sense of what is happening, he accompanies Door as she escape thungs on her trail, hoping that he can go back to his life in the end.
Neverwhere is an excellent amalgamation of almost all the essential elements a first-time Gaiman reader has to acquaint himself/herself with. There is the theme of ‘doors into alternate worlds’, angels, borrowings from other literary masterpieces that he tweaked into perfect molding with his story (Easter eggs from Lovecraftian tales are easily my favorite), and of course, magic. With his sterling prose, Gaiman blended and hooked these elements onto a fast-paced plot that is not just chockfull of adventures, but also of things you can pick up on a journey to self-discovery.
The ensemble of characters is wonderfully colorful. I liked Richard a lot, despite being a very nondescript antihero. Trying to untangle himself from the mess he got hurtled into by his Good Samaritan act, he is often stuck between being stubbornly reluctant and tremblingly terrified in assuming the role of a savior—a role he has to accept anyway, despite almost always filling the shoes of the guy-in-distress. It is worth noting though that in his unassuming eyes, he had just become some kind of a gender-bent version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy Gale, desperate to go back home. He develops a quite understandable one-track mind. Before he can achieve his goal, however, he will have to face ordeals that will bring a lot of enlightenment about himself and life in general.
The determined Door, the enigmatic Hunter, and the sassy Marquis de Carabas are intriguing characters that provide a stark contrast to the otherwise bland (albeit charming) protagonist. The plot leaves too many questions about them though, and I wish Gaiman will indeed go back and answer these or even expand this universe.
What I liked the most about this book is how Gaiman’s ace world-building made it seem like the two Londons have lived to become characters in the story as well. Gaiman has once said that Neverwhere can be read concretely, but there is something about the whole ‘fraternal twin’ cities as he presented it that suggested heavily of satire. The busy London’s underbelly is often populated with those “who fell through the cracks in the world.” They can clamber back up, but if they are not completely ignored by the Aboveworlders, they will remain in their memories for no more than a moment.
London Below residents are basically Rummage Sale Rejects on two feet; even the Lady Door, daughter of the prominent Lord Portico, is clad in an assortment of dirty colorful fabrics beneath an oversized leather coat. Based on their appearances, Under-wordlers are very possible representations of beggars, vagabonds, runaways, or even just those who lost their residences and jobs. Like in many major cities, losing either of the two is grounds for becoming a ‘non-person’ to other people, so to speak. Now, remember how Richard takes great notice and—does not forget—the wounded Door the first they meet? It thinks it is chiefly because only the kindest and most compassionate people are the ones who acknowledge or help these ‘Underworlders’.
As for the prose, what can I say? Gaiman does not dial down when it comes to showing his writing talent. Along with the characters, London Below came alive…a gritty, dangerous, and labyrinthine place where time and consequences roil differently from its counterpart. Replete with humor, action, and drama, the book is packed with stunning imagery (OH, and watch out for the torture scenes, for in the recesses of my post-nightmare memory a few nights ago I can see glimpses of the whole thing. It still disturbs me when I think about it.)
The plot is admittedly sewn from standard tropes, but the execution is done exceptionally, capped with a Gaimanesque twist. The ending left many people disturbed or dissatisfied because it flips one substantial part of the book into what seems to be a wild goose chase, but I liked it a lot. The only things I am concerned about are the questions I mentioned above.
4.5 stars for a very satisfying read!
PS: I’m deeply saddened to hear the news that a New Mexico high school has pulled out Neverwhere from its reading list because a parent complained it has graphic sexual content, or something along that line. I think the school’s decision to pull out (‘temporarily ban’?) the book is a knee-jerk reaction. From the news bits I’ve read Neverwhere has been on their curriculum since 2004, and there hasn’t been a complaint ever since. Why relent easily to one mother’s objections? Have they even read the whole book? :( I hope they rectify this mistake soon.
For the curious, click here to see the, um, "jumper-fumbling" scene. Obviously, the point of the whole thing is to underscore Richard’s “invisibility” to the couple, and if the dear mom is having problems about the language or the make-out scene itself she should try watching the shows her kid watches right now, or just spy on a bunch of high school kids to hear how they talk these days. *BIG SIGH*
NO TO BOOK BANNING!
“You’ve a good heart. Sometimes that’s enough to see you safe wherever you go. But mostly, it’s not.”
—Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere)
The cover for Hollow City, sequel to Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, revealed a couple of weeks ago. I think it perfectly complements the cover of its predecessor. Anyone else excited for the new set of eerie, vintage snapshots in the book—and more of Jacob and peculiar kids’ adventures? :)
In other news, apparently they are releasing a graphic novel version of the first book. Click here for more info.
Check out my review for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Oh, books are definitely drugs. No argument could ever convince me otherwise. Based on my latest “inventory,” there are over 150 unread novels among the countless books in our shelves and pseudo-nooks. I know that’s criminally inappropriate, but it didn’t stop me from buying more books from the 34th Manila International Book Fair this weekend. I…just can’t help it. I’m a hopeless case, and I’ll shamelessly tell you I’m okay with it. :p
Anyway, here’s the stack that dismantled my carefully planned budget this month:
- The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. From Goodreads: The Colour of Magic is Terry Pratchett’s maiden voyage through the bizarre land of Discworld. His entertaining and witty series has grown to more than 20 books, and this is where it all starts—with the tourist Twoflower and his hapless wizard guide, Rincewind (“All wizards get like that … it’s the quicksilver fumes. Rots their brains. Mushrooms, too.”). Pratchett spoofs fantasy clichés—and everything else he can think of—while marshalling a profusion of characters through a madcap adventure. (Blaise Selby)
- Lit Riffs edited by Matthew Miele. From Goodreads: Following in the footsteps of the late great Lester Bangs—the most revered and irreverent of rock ‘n’ roll critics—twenty-four celebrated writers have penned stories inspired by great songs. Just as Bangs cast new light on a Rod Stewart classic with his story “Maggie May,” about a wholly unexpected connection between an impressionable young man and an aging, alcoholic hooker, the diverse, electrifying stories here use songs as a springboard for a form dubbed the lit riff.
- Dune by Frank Herbert. From Goodreads: Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family—and would bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream. A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what it undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (new awesome cover!). From Goodreads: “Richard Mayhew is a young man with a good heart and an ordinary life, which is changed forever when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. His small act of kindness propels him into a world he never dreamed existed. There are people who fall through the cracks, and Richard has become one of them. And he must learn to survive in this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London that he knew.”
- Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally. From Goodreads: “Schindler’s List is a remarkable work of fiction based on the true story of German industrialist and war profiteer, Oskar Schindler, who, confronted with the horror of the extermination camps, gambled his life and fortune to rescue 1,300 Jews from the gas chambers.”
- It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. From Goodreads: Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. Determined to succeed at life—which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job—Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does. That’s when things start to get crazy.
- The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. From Goodreads: After the death of her beloved twin brother and the abandonment of her long-time lover, Greta Wells undergoes electroshock therapy. Over the course of the treatment, Greta finds herself repeatedly sent to 1918, 1941, and back to the present. Whisked from the gas-lit streets and horse-drawn carriages of the West Village to a martini-fueled lunch at the Oak Room, in these other worlds, Greta finds her brother alive and well—though fearfully masking his true personality. And her former lover is now her devoted husband…but will he be unfaithful to her in this life as well? Greta Wells is fascinated by her alter egos: in 1941, she is a devoted mother; in 1918, she is a bohemian adulteress.
- The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Five novels in one volume (and it costs the same as the book 1 in this series when I bought it)! From Goodreads: Seconds before the Earth is demolished for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is saved by Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised Guide. Together they stick out their thumbs to the stars and begin a wild journey through time and space.
More blabbering at my blogspot.
I just came back to a hotel room in Texas, and something ALWAYS happens in Texas…Tonight the poster art came through for the movie of #TheBookThief, and what can I say? It’s gorgeous and stunning, and perfect in its image of Liesel, caught in the act of book thievery.
If you could see me now, you’d catch me smiling…and why?
She’s many things, that girl, but to me, right now - she looks ready.
Title: Memoirs of a Geisha
Author: Arthur Golden
Genre: historical fiction, drama, romance
My Rating: ★★★★
Have you ever wondered what a book’s words would taste like if they were food? I think Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore would appeal to the tongue like a cup of tea, one so exotic it would convert you into a caffeine evangelist overnight. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief would be a stolen candy, a blob of heaven in your mouth that you wish would never dissolve—but it would, and after it’s gone you know you’ll be willing to steal again and again. I imagine the flavor of Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things to be of an omelette from the eggs of a dream-eating dragon (if only, you know, such an exotic creature exists.).
I had a conversation like this with a fellow bookworm not so long ago. I remembered him telling me about the “oral” appeal mostly of literature I still haven’t read yet. One of the books he mentioned is Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. He described the whole thing as butter-like, as if the words would melt into your mind’s tongue while you’re reading it (non-verbatim, but you get the idea). I realized what he meant when I started reading the book myself.
Memoirs of a Geisha follows the story of Sayuri as she journeys from being an impoverished village kid to being one of the most popular geisha in Japan. She was born as Chiyo, a carefree girl from Yoroido. She was sold into an okiya in Gion and there she starts treading her way into Geisha-hood—which is, of course, littered with heavy obstacles.
It is no secret that Memoirs attracted huge controversies. There were issues about a certain breach of contract and a handful of inconsistencies that brought culture-related uproars, which just augmented after the release of its movie adaptation. These were not enough to make me jump into the bandwagon at that time, though. (I was always like, “I don’t need this now, my cranium’s near to bursting with all the Jap stuff from our Asian history class!”) Now I am realizing what I was missing in all those years.
The story was told by Sayuri as an old woman, recounting the past starting from a day that is “both the best and the worst in her life.” I like how Golden made it so that the adult speaker did not sound so invasive in the story of her younger self. Think of what most grandmas will sound like if they will sit back in their rocking chairs while imparting anecdotes of their folly as a youth, minus perhaps a big chunk of humor.
Golden’s descriptions are a joy to read. This is where I saw—or tasted, rather—the “butter-like” flavor of the book that my bookworm friend is talking about. The writing style is smooth. With its chosen POV you will be made aware that you are receiving the fictional story secondhand, but Golden’s style has given the readers a free pass to the past. You will be transported to another time and place, as if you are witnessing the events yourself.
That said, I am amazed by how deftly Golden weaved his words together. He took care especially when describing the various kimonos worn in the tale. They are spoken with the kind of awe only a poor girl would have after seeing the most beautiful dress in her life for the first time. However, I think it will work once or twice only; expressing everything in detail and with the same awed delight for the rest of the story is a little overwhelming. Golden’s writing seems butter-like most of the time, true, but that does not mean chunks of bread in it will be bad. ;)
My love for well-written bildungsroman is the main reason why I kept coming back to YA lit. Though not YA, Memoirs presented a rather…unusual coming-of-age tale in its first half. It is very interesting. Golden’s treatment of Chiyo’s slow blossoming reads a lot different from the western COA stories I’ve encountered before, and I liked it. I guess the history-based grit, which is spread throughout the novel, gives it an edge different from that of its peers.
Character-wise, Chiyo/Sayuri is the only I can consider decently molded, although there are a few times when I think Golden is falling short of the mark of effectively speaking with a female voice. I’ll even admit Chiyo/Sayuri is sometimes Mary Sue-ish. The others never seemed to have progressed past the second stage of their dimensional development. Potential runners-up: Hatsumomo, the only geisha in the okiya when Chiyo arrived, is an intriguing catalyst in the latter’s growth…even if that mostly meant she implicated a Cinderella-like syndrome to the girl’s tale. I am largely interested in the character of Pumpkin too, another geisha-in-training and in effect another “Cinderella” in the okiya, except that she was not as fortunate as Chiyo/Sayuri. I wished she was given more character weight instead of just being portrayed like a caricature for the majority of the story. I can see her as the most human if given substantial attention.
The male characters were not very remarkable, except maybe for the disfigured Nobu. The others gained no flesh and had nothing in them that could hook me. Chiyo/Sayuri developed a bizarre kind of love with one of these men, and personally, I wished she had just seen someone else—something else—that would fuel her to achieve greatness. As a reader, I think it was strange to feel nothing for the very person the main character holds in high regard, the very man that gave the narrator a spark of hope that she held onto through life. Knowing at the end that you didn’t particularly care for more than half of the character ensemble was a tad saddening revelation.
Memoirs of a Geisha is a gritty un-fairytale from the orient that wraps up rather bittersweetly. It has a handful of glaring flaws, but despite those I can say I genuinely enjoyed it. Perhaps I will pick up a couple of books about Geisha and pre-World War II Japan to check on the controversial inconsistencies, but I do not think they will change my mind about what I think of this book.
4 out of 5 stars.
Handy advice by writers. As part of their “Shared Worlds 2013”, Wofford college asked Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Lev Grossman,Joe Haldeman, and more artists, editors, and writers for a photo of their writing advice written on their hands. Check out the rest.
APOLOGIES FOR BEING A NEGLIGENT LITTLE BLOGGER! :( I hope everyone who sent ask’s won’t mind if I answer them now. It’s been almost a month since I last updated. -__-
so-awesome said: Hello Airiz!! first of all, a very Happy Birthday to you!! the early 20s are awesome but they pass by too quickly.. anyway, I’ve been meaning to start on a Murakami book (it’s sad I’ve never picked one up before now!) and aren’t sure which one to start with, wondering if you could recommend which to start with, maybe? I really respect you as a reader, and will sincerely appreciate your advice ;)
I think by now you have already chosen what Murakami book you’d like to read, so sorry about that. But if you haven’t…I guess it’s best to start with Norwegian Wood. :)
Thanks for the greeting, by the way!
reachhell asked: Just curious, how many books do you have? (You seem to have a lot) and how much do you spend on books? BTW, I love your blog! Your book reviews are really helpful when I’m deciding what to read next. :)))
Oh sorry, I don’t count them! Except the unread ones, since I make a list of those to (1) remind myself to read them and (2) to blackmail myself when I suddenly have the urge to buy more (it never worked). My latest “unread list” have over 150 books in it. I’m a criminal, I know. I stopped at 150 because it’s getting depressing.
As to how much I spend on books, let’s say I don’t really have a fixed budget for them and that I’d grab a book I like regardless of how much money I have left in my poor excuse for a wallet. :)
peachmelbs said: I’ve read ur blog till past midnight! Thank you so much for sharing all these thoughts. Wish I have a bibliophile bestfriend like you. :)
Thank you so much for that, you’re sweet!
thehiddenpages asked: Hi ate! Nabasa mo na po ba ‘ung The Midnight Palace?
Hello! Hindi ko pa nababasa yan, pero naririnig ko na dati. Maganda ba? :)
lemueloodle said:Happy Birthday :)
somelittlearcticflower said: Happy birthday! :D Hope you have an amazing day and get lots of books!