Have you ever read a book that has become part of your life, part of who you are? Well, I believe that Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman might just have become one of those books for me.
If someone asked you what you were doing when the Twin Towers were struck or where you were when you heard that Princess Diana had died, chances are that you would be able to them, (I was at my nan’s watching the live news feed when the second plane hit the tower and in my living room with a fluffy dressing gown and a hangover after a hen party when I learned of Diana). For me it’s not the vivid, technicolour recollections that stand out during these defining moments in life – although they are as clear in my mind as the day they happened – it’s the books I was reading at the time. They become part of the grieving and acceptance process for me in a way that burns them into my subconscious and envelopes them into my life. These books become as easily recallable to me as the memory of where I was and what I was doing at the time that these often turbulent memories are formed. Ironically, I was reading The Lord of The Rings – The Two Towers on September 11th 2001 and Bridget Jones’ Diary on 31st August 1997 and these books now have a special place in my life and on my bookshelf.
This month, whilst reading Neverwhere, I lost my dad. It was a sudden, unexpected loss from a brain haemorrhage that we couldn’t have prepared for. As the oldest child and next of kin, I took the lead in organising his funeral, straightening out his estate and disposing of his furnishings and belongings within the two weeks requested by his landlord. Needless to say, escapism was high on the agenda during these dark days and I tucked myself up every night, burying myself in the masterfully constructed world of London Below. I eagerly followed Door and The Marquis de Carabas on their quest to uncover the reason for her family’s senseless murder. Richard Mayhew’s clumsy ineptitude for life and Hunter’s exasperation at having to keep him alive despite his own best efforts to the contrary kept me sane and smiling whilst the brilliant Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar were the perfect comedic psychopath pairing. Visualising the world below London kept my brain busy, often seeping into the daytime when I should have been concentrating on something else – The Angel Islington, the Black Friars, Temple Arch – all very creatively crafted alternatives to the accepted London Above landmarks and all concepts that reduced the amount of time I spent wallowing in the depression of losing a parent.
I have a list of books that I read as a child and which have become a part of my life in a way that only books digested in these formative years can. I spent many nights under my covers with a torch reading the Hugh Lofting’s Dr Dolittle series and oddly, the Britannia Children’s Encyclopaedias. I also have books that became part of my life later and for very different reasons, Neverwhere is now on that list and Door, Richard, Hunter and The Marquis will now become comfortable therapists to me just as Frodo, Aragorn, Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy did all those years ago.
You won’t be surprised to learn that I gave Neverwhere a five star review on Goodreads because I really did enjoy the story. I was sad that it ended, that I don’t know what became of Richard Mayhew and that I really don’t know if the feather was significant or if it was just a gift from a madman! I hope there will be a sequel (the author hasn’t ruled it out) but that this time I’ll be able to enjoy it without the therapy provided by the original.