Sunday, 30 November 2014

Books I Read In November

'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman
There are apparently three versions of this book.  It began as a television series (1996) prompted by comedian and actor Lenny Henry and written by Gaiman.  He then went on to write a book of the series and then a version for American readers who did not understand many of the London references, before this version which is the most comprehensive.  A movie was planned in 2009 but never came to anything but a radio series was broadcast in 2013.

I saw the series when first broadcast and watched it last year on DVD.  However, I still enjoyed the book which is close to, but does not precisely follow the series.  Gaiman has more time to fill in the background and he uses the novel form to really paint the locations and characters of London Below very richly.  The book focuses on Richard Mayhew a Scot living in London who goes to the rescue of a young homeless woman, Door.  Helping her means he is subsequently invisible to people in London and he is drawn into London Below in an effort to recapture his old life.  London Below mixes literal translations of London places, e.g. Old Bailey is an old man who keeps rooks; Earl's Court is a train on which an earl holds court; the Black Friars are friars who are black and so on.  It features exotic characters such as the Angel Islington, Mr. Croup and Mr, Vandemar assassins and the amoral Marquis of Carabas, named after a character in the 'Puss in Boots' story.  Henry and Gaiman did not want to glamourise the lives of the homeless and so as well as having fantastical elements such as the Floating Market, the Beast of London and the Velvets (as in the Velvet Underground) life is cheap and people Mayhew encounters are tortured and killed with little thought.

Overall it is a modern fairy tale and shows fascinating imagination as you would expect from Gaiman.  I enjoyed the book and recommend it if you are looking for something a little different in your fantasy reading as it has elements of many fantasy tropes, but shifts them into a grown-up and gritty context.  It may seem very different if you are unfamiliar with London, but I feel it would still be engaging as the places of London Below will be even more unfamiliar.

'Master Georgie' by Beryl Bainbridge
This is an episodic book laid out in reference to a number of photographs taken between 1846-54.  The chapters rotate through the three perspectives of people who associate with George Hardy of the title, a rather spoilt young, gay, doctor who has photography as his hobby.  Despite his shortcomings he seems to instill great loyalty in his friends and associates.  Consequently they move from London to the Crimea as spectators and increasingly participants in the Crimean War.  There is very minimal plot.  The book is about drawing in great detail the lives and characters of four people, anchored by the focus on Hardy whose perspective we never see.  This is very much a 'slice of life' book which is effective in portraying London in the mid-19th century and the squalor and difficulties of the poorly-executed British effort in the Crimean War.  It was engaging on that basis, but I like a plot and so finished it feeling a little: 'so what?'.  The quality of writing is very good and the historical detail too.  Yet, it was not really the book for me.

No comments: