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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel

There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »
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    Juliet's Nurse

    Lois Leveen 9781476757445

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Neverwhere Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. Like The Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland, and many mythological stories, Neverwhere involves a descent into an underworld. What is the appeal of exploring a world that exists beneath the surface of our everyday lives? What does the marquis de Carabas mean when he tells Richard that “London Below — the Underside — is inhabited by people who fell through the cracks in the world”?

2. In what ways is it meaningful that Richard enters the world of London Below through an act of compassion for Door? Where else in the novel does he prove his willingness to sacrifice his own safety and comfort to help others? Why are these acts of courage and selflessness so important?

3. What are the major trials that Richard must face in his journey underground? What inner qualities do these trials bring forth in him? What kind of hero is he?

4. In what ways can the world of London Below be seen as a kind of inverted mirror of London Above? In what ways does this magical world, with its outrageous characters and floating markets that sell everything from rubbish and lost property to “first-class nightmares” and “things that might have been hats and might have been modern art” comment on the world above? In what sense is Neverwhere satirizing the “normal” world and its values?

5. The narrator describes the bodyguard Ruislip as resembling “a bad dream one might have if one fell asleep watching sumo wrestling on the television with a Bob Marley record playing in the background,” and suggests that Mr. Vandemar’s voice sounds like “night wind blowing over a desert of bones.” Where else do we find this kind of highly metaphoric description in the novel? How do such descriptions make the book more vivid? In what ways is this kind of writing suited to the story being told?

6. What makes the characters Richard meets in London Below — Lord Ratspeaker, Door, the marquis de Carabas, Hunter, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, Serpentine, the Earl, and others — so engaging? What magical powers do they possess? What character traits make each of them so distinctive? How do their reactions to Richard change over the course of the novel?

7. What is the significance of the Angel Islington turning out to be the betrayer and perhaps the most evil character in the novel? What motivates his treachery? In what ways is it appropriate that a man like Arnold Stockton owns the The Angelus statue through which Islington may be reached?

8. At the end of the novel, when Richard tries to explain to Jessica why he can’t resume their relationship, he says “I’ve just changed, that’s all.” In what important ways has he changed? What has his journey in the underworld allowed him to discover about himself? Why would it be impossible for him to marry Jessica now?

9. While in London Below, Richard longs to go home where “Everything is going to be normal again. Boring again. Wonderful again.” Why does he find “normal life” so empty and dissatisfying when, after such a heroic effort, he finally does get home? Does he make the right decision in returning to London Below?

10. What does Neverwhere, as a whole, say about the themes of trust and betrayal, loyalty and disloyalty, selfishness and compassion?

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Average customer rating based on 14 comments:

jzboin, May 12, 2014 (view all comments by jzboin)
What an amazing read, this book was! I read it in only four days, which for me is getting through a book very quickly. First of all, the main character is immediately likable. The villains are very engaging, too. The story follows Richard, who appears to have it all figured out before he falls into London below, which he must escape in order to get back to his own world. There is an angel, there are rat people, and so much more for the fantasy novel readers out there. For the not necessarily fantasy readers there are great characters and there is a lot of heart. This was my first Neil Gaiman book, I now plan to read all the others, excuse me...
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star athena, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by star athena)
Neverwhere is the first Neil Gaiman book I ever read. It's entertaining, compelling, dark, funny, spooky... I love it. The characters are original and the world is fascinating. It's like places and creatures in dreams. It's not just fantasy though, there are anchors about - the protagonist is a guy who is confused by this dark universe he has been thrust into from his safe cubicle. He gets to learn a lot about himself as he faces pretty scary situations. Read it already... Yes, this book made me a Gaiman fan.
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nrlymrtl, June 11, 2012 (view all comments by nrlymrtl)
I have read Neverwhere a few times over the past dozen years and each time I wish Neil Gaiman would write a sequel, or prequel, or additional book set in this world. This book still has so many mysteries to explore. Neverwhere, my first Gaiman book, showed me a different kind of fantasy, one without princess-gobbling dragons, puns, elderly wizards, or lengthy sword fights. It is urban fantasy, but more than that, it is about Richard finding his place in the world. He hungers for a top job at the office, to impress his girlfriend Jess, and be a very popular guy. But none of that is happening. In fact, one might look at Richard’s life and think it is a bit of a joke. He’s a paper-pusher, his friend makes snide jokes at his expense, and his girlfriend has his life planned out to meet her exacting standards. Poor dude. But then one evening a bloody girl ends up on the sidewalk in front of him, begging for help. Lady Door is in desperate need of assistance. Her family has been massacred by unknown assailants for mysterious reasons.

Neverwhere isn’t my favorite Gaiman book and I would even say it is not his best work. But it has a warm place in my heart and it is worth a reread every few years. The character development only goes so far and then plot drives the rest of the book. The story, while wrapped up for the immediate needs, leaves several questions churning in the reader’s head; hence, my desire to see another book set in this world.
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Product Details

Gaiman, Neil
by Neil Gaiman
New York :
Fantasy - General
Horror fiction
Fantasy - Contemporary
Horror tales
London (England) Fiction.
London (england)
Science Fiction and Fantasy-Fantasy-Contemporary
Edition Description:
Mass Market PB
Series Volume:
v. 3
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
6.77x4.14x1.04 in. .43 lbs.

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Neverwhere Used Mass Market
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.50 In Stock
Product details 400 pages Avon Books - English 9780380789016 Reviews:
"Review" by , "[Gaiman] is, simply put, a treasure house of story, and we are lucky to have him in any media."
"Review" by , "I didn't ever want this book to end... these characters are part of my life now."
"Review" by , "Some of the best pure storytelling around these days is being produced in the critically suspect genre of fantasy, and this exuberantly inventive first full-length novel, by the co-creator of the graphic series The Sandman (1996), is a state-of-the-art example.... consistently witty, suspenseful, and hair-raisingly imaginative in its contemporary transpositions of familiar folk and mythic materials... [Y]es, Virginia, there really are alligators in those sewers — and Gaiman makes you believe it." (starred review)
"Review" by , "[Neverwhere] is an Oz overrun by maniacs and monsters, and it becomes a Shangri-La for Richard. Excellent escapist fare."
"Synopsis" by , When Richard Mayhew stops one day to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk, his life is forever altered, for he finds himself propelled into an alternate reality that exists in a subterranean labyrinth of sewer canals and abandoned subway stations. He has fallen through the cracks of reality and has landed somewhere different, somewhere that is Neverwhere.
"Synopsis" by , Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart — and an ordinary life that is changed forever on a day he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. From that moment forward he is propelled into a world he never dreamed existed — a dark subculture flourish in abandoned subway stations and sewer tunnels below the city — a world far stranger and more dangerous than the only one he has ever known...Richard Mayhew is a young businessman with a good heart and a dull job. When he stops one day to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk, his life is forever altered, for he finds himself propelled into an alternate reality that exists in a subterranean labyrinth of sewer canals and abandoned subway stations below the city. He has fallen through the cracks of reality and has landed somewhere different, somewhere that is Neverwhere.
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