To me, one of the promising marks of a great storyteller is that their breakout works are conceptually promising, even if the prose is found a bit lacking here and there.
Sidenote: I say this as someone who is relentlessly (and perhaps quite unfairly) fussy about prose. In my mind, to say that a book is ‘lacking here and there’ in terms of prose, is still putting a book on higher standing than 95% of what’s out there on the market in terms of quality.
Writing matures substantially over a career— the cadence of syllables, the scintillation of each sense coaxed out through bold and poignant characterizations—all of this is just a matter of craftsmanship. Put in the work, practice regularly, and expand your repertoire: excellence will come. Creativity and insight, however, is never guaranteed so dependably.
When I’d finally gotten my hands on Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere in 2006, it was already a decade old. I was only 14, but even then I had a hankering for stories rich with the symbolic.
Experiencing the descent of Richard Mayhew, the story’s protagonist, into the dark of the Underside and its parallels to the intersected horrors of poverty and mental health as vehicles of social displacement, anxiety, and self-alienation… it had a profound effect on me.
Fast-forward another decade, and Gaiman releases an updated text. The prose is suddenly more crisp.
For a story that takes place in the sewers of London, the polish was an unexpected burst of fresh air to what was already a novel destined to be regarded as a classic.
The story is wildly creative, unorthodox and genre-defying in subject matter, and just an all-around delight to read. It is not a book one easily forgets.
Get your copy here:
by Neil Gaiman
Neverwhere is the stunningly original first novel from Neil Gaiman, the bestselling and prizewinning author of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and American Gods. Wired called it ‘the sort of book Terry Pratchett might produce if he spent a month locked in a cellar with Frank Kafka’. This is a must-read for all those who loved Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell or the magical world of J.K. Rowling.
And, a bonus! BBC Radio 4 did a lovely adaptation of the story as an audio drama in 2013, with characters voiced by actors such as James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Natalie Dormer, and Anthony Steward Head! You can get it here.
All the best, Authocrats, and happy reading!
L. Farnsworth Colson