Neil Gaiman's 'Neverwhere'

Disappearing into Neverwhere

Books

I read a Guardian Long Read a while back about a young man named Christopher Knight who inexplicably abandoned society one day. He’d driven until his car was out of fuel and then started walking with only the most basic of supplies in his pack. It was difficult to become totally lost, even finding himself back in his own neighbourhood at the beginning of his travels. But then he began to adapt and understand his newfound invisibility. He wasn’t seen again by general society for almost a quarter of a century.

Knight said that he didn’t really know why he left. He had given the question plenty of thought but had never arrived at a specific answer. “It’s a mystery,” he declared.

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere isn’t about a man who chooses his fate in the same way that Knight did, but it is about someone who one day disappears, nonetheless. I wondered to myself, reading Gaiman’s novel, whether there’s a point in the kind of invisibility that Christopher Knight achieved, versus the one Richard has flung at him.

I have wished I was invisible more than once. I do not fit in, simply put. At parties, I see only tight knit circles of friends, all with their backs to me, all in private conversations holding private jokes, talking about the things normal people talk about, leading terribly, terribly interesting lives. If not for the pitied half conversations that strays make with me for matters of politeness, I’d be invisible already. I have been in parks and on grassy fields when an errant football rolls by, kicked astray by some more physically fit person than I, “Oi, mate, chuck over that ball!” I cringe inside, not least because I can neither throw any better than I can kick, but also because I have become noticed and I have been entered into a social contract that I never agreed to. And how I long in those moments for total invisibility, a disappearing act.

Richard becomes a non-person, not in the Orwellian malicious sense, but in a very true, historical sense, where the memories of you are overwritten by fact; you never existed, so nobody can remember you. Knight, on the other hand, remains very much real, though a little mythologised – his own disappearance, at the young age of 20, must have caused pain to his family or friends. And whilst Richard finds himself in a fantastical world of fiefdoms and floating markets, creatures in the depths and bird-men living on roofs, Knight was in the woods, stealing from holiday cabins.

Neverwhere answers those urges to remove oneself from society with stories of wonder and excitement, but never fails to ground it in sneaking reality. At the end of the book, as Richard talks rabidly to the homeless woman, you feel unease that this may have all been some sort of mental breakdown, what’s believable and what’s not suddenly becomes a little more fragile (again, Orwell’s Nineteen eighty-four and its ending is strangely relevant). It not Gaiman’s duty to tell you, Hey, don’t run away from your life because I wrote about living in sewers, that should hopefully be implicit. What he did instead is to have offered you that escape anyway. I have rarely been so enraptured by a book, rarely lost myself and my surroundings so intensely. Almost every morning reading it on my commute into central London, I have nearly missed my stop, barely lifting my head in time to see the platform racing into view. Now I’ve left the incredible world of London Below, I feel at a loss, but it has left its mark on me – and I’ll never forget to Mind the Gap, either.

Eleanor’s Mind – The Haunting of Hill House

Books

If, as Stephen King put it, we step into the mind of a madman when we enter Hill House, then it’s only a partial truth. Really, it’s the mind of Eleanor, not quite mad, not quite stable. It’s a mind in turmoil like millions of others living right now. She imagines elaborate alternate lives, daydreams sequences of fantasy and wonder, she escapes to foreign worlds because her own is so unsatisfying – that Hill House should seek her out is no real shock, then. But what is interesting nonetheless, is how we come to understand or, more importantly, to stop understanding her as her life unfolds in Hill House.

Spoilers, duh

Will I, she thought, will I get out of my car and go between the ruined gates and then, once I am in the magic oleander square, find that I have wandered into a fairyland, protected poisonously from the eyes of people passing?

The first chapter allows us a view of Eleanor’s mind in stark contrast to the introductory passages dedicated to the other characters’ lives and thought habits. Those other characters are, though very much alive and with their own quirks, not quite interesting enough. Before even her fantasy around the stone lions and oleander fairyland, Eleanor alone is given the most human treatment: she knocks over an old lady and the agonising awkwardness of the encounter is perhaps one of the most relatable things in the entire novel (unless, of course, you yourself are a haunted house, in which it is less relatable).

She crashed into a very little lady, sending packages in all directions, and saw with dismay a bag upset and break on the sidewalk, spilling out a broken piece of cheesecake, tomato slices, a hard roll. “Damn you, damn you!” the little lady screamed, her face pushed up close to Eleanor’s. “I was taking it home, damn you damn you!”

Don’t you know that feeling? You seem to spend all day aching over your inconvenience to those around you, and yet in those pinnacle moments of most care, it all seems to fall away from you. Well, I know the feeling anyway. Eleanor isn’t quite careless, in fact, her whole life has been defined by caring, but she is flawed in a way outside of the fictional world necessarily needed for a scary story, she’s actually one of us. And it’s this relatability that grabs at the core of why her mind is such a fascinating concept in this book.

Now let’s look at that first evening in Hill House, in chapter three. What is it that begins to take a hold of Eleanor? It’s there, it’s affecting her and yet what is it? I have long been deeply appreciative of any writer about to narrate the experience of alcohol taking its hold on a thought process. If you want my opinion, my favourite writer so far is George Orwell in his underrated (even he disliked it) book, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, when his terribly unlikable protagonist gets paid for a poem in an American magazine. That is how you write about booze. But is it booze that’s taking hold?

She could feel the thin stem of her glass between her fingers, the stiff pressure of the chair against her back, the faint movements of air through the room which were barely perceptible in small stirrings of tassels and beads.

The most inane becomes the most sensitive when alcohol wraps its around a synapse or two, and so this seems fit for it. Eleanor’s internalised narrative is strengthening in this moment, her mind is fixating. We’ve already seen this in her appraisal of her surroundings and her self-validation of having, for wont of a better word, a clan to which she belongs, before Mrs Dudley’s dinner is served. It continues on, her reappraising of her situation, her own judgements becoming more prominent.

She likes attention, Eleanor thought wisely and, without thinking, moved and sat on the floor beside Theodora.

Again, is this the brandy? Is this a mind merely on the cusp of intoxication, mixed with the anxieties of the everyday you and me? I won’t linger – let’s fast-forward.

After the first terrors of Hill House have visited themselves upon the guests and the fear is alleviated with jokes at the expense of Mrs Dudley, there should be respite – if it were not for that ghoulish message scrawled across the walls, of course.

“And maybe, of course, you wrote it to yourself,” Theodora said again.
[…]
And the doctor laughed, then, and she stared at him and then at Luke, who was smiling and watching her. What is wrong with me? she thought. Then – but they think Theodora did it on purpose, made me mad so I wouldn’t be frightened; how shameful to be maneuvered that way.
[…]
“I was frightened.”
“Of course you were,” the doctor said, and Eleanor thought, How simple he is, how transparent; he believes every silly thing he has ever heard.

What was, and continues in parts to be, packaged with insecurity and the need for validation somehow now seems sinister, doesn’t it? There’s something chilling creeping over Eleanor’s internal commentary. A virus, spreading and mutating through her thoughts. It is attacking her rational defences. We’ve all done it, we’ve all rushed to conclusions, but in the moment of Eleanor’s terror, the conclusions she reaches seem alien from herself. We read on in horror, not for the events inside Hill House, but for the events inside Eleanor’s mind, that troubled, bumbling human being.

 

 

 

 

Madness in The Haunting of Hill House

Books

Madness. Suffocating madness. Poisonous madness. The kind of madness that creeps and crawls in the dead of night as you sleep, peering over the edge of your mind, laying doubts, unanswerable wonderments in those unmonitored darkest corners and creases. It is insidious. That’s the horror of The Haunting of Hill House. Stephen King, in a deferential essay in Danse Macabre, said of Jackson’s novel, “One thing we do know about Hill House is that it is all wrong. It is no one thing we can put our finger on; it’s everything. Stepping into Hill House is like stepping into the mind of a madman[.]”

Gentle spoilers ahead…

Eleanor, the novel’s protagonist, is the result of a troubling start to life and, over the span of the story, seems to be the unfortunate vehicle for both the progression of the narrative but also the reader’s sense of horror. People, especially young people, like Eleanor, who must quickly learn to shoulder a burden few ever have to consider can often become wounded by the continued grind of simply being. They are bound to carry on, sometimes by duty, by love, by guilt, by any number of instinctive feelings, combined or totally separated, and they’ll do it accumulating more and more mental exhaustion to their burdens. It’s no wonder then that we spend so much time in Eleanor’s mind; her coping mechanism has become a fantastical, internalised world that carries her off at the flick of mental switch. And what better place to instil those first terrors.

There are some beautiful passages in the book. So much so that I’ll even take the somewhat daring step of comparing the final paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House to the final paragraph of The Great Gatsby. Both speak to the impossibly stubborn continuation of being. The things that hurt, that cause or feel pain, the things that experience all the love that can both cause it and destroy it. And rather than meditate on that – because I’m definitely not the first – I’ll simply say that these are the words we all live for. They aren’t exactly comforting in the reassuring sense, but they do offer comfort in a way that tells us that some things are immovable. Being defiant in the face of fear is courageous some of the time, but there’s also a great deal to be said about yelling and screaming and running away as fast as you possibly can. We are not immovable.

 

 

The Invisible Man, by H G Wells: A Note From A Lost Generation

Books

Never have I so romantically been engaged in the reading of a book as I was this one. It happened some years ago now, in my first year at university. Desperately unhappy, as I am often found to be, I was seeking solace on my own and slowly discovering the power of fiction to console me in those moments of solitude. One day, as the fire alarm went screaming above my head, rousing me in a panic from an uncomfortable sleep on the thinly mattressed university bed, I had an idea. It was a scheduled thing – the alarm, not having ideas – every Wednesday morning, some time around 8, that the alarm test was performed – woe betide any student foolish enough to have earned a hangover from the night before – in that moment, I decided that I would no longer be there for that goddamned screaming red bell. Instead I would take a beautiful battered old book and have breakfast in the cafe on campus. 

A large black Americano coffee, strictly no sugar, and a plate of Belgian waffles generously drizzled in warm, silken Canadian maple syrup. I do hope you will appreciate the further joy that this literary, gluttonous breakfast afforded me on those mornings (usually ice cold, in January and February): people watching. At a university this means world renowned academics trundling in, looking downtrodden and anguished in their long clothes and achingly artistic fashion sense. I hoped the anguish was at the state of the world in some deeply philosophically cruel way, but it may have been sleep deprivation. 

The book I chose was The Invisible Man, by H G Wells – to date the only one of his I have read. I picked it up in a charity book shop in the city. The city was Canterbury, England, by the way, where the head of the Church of England resides some of the time and where you will hear some of the greatest buskers that this country has to offer. If you’ve never been, visit, but don’t live there…live near there if you must.

In the cover, this note is the first thing after the pencilled pricing that you see. I have always wanted so desperately to know who these people were. Lovers? Family? Friends? And why was the book a gift, for what occasion? But more gravely than anything, these other queries fade into insignificance to my overriding worry: did they know what was coming? Did they outlive the next four years of hellish brutality just across the channel?

This book provided me with an escape and the opportunity to begin forging the identity I wanted, I needed, to be true. Although I was terribly alone at university, fraught with fear and anxiety, this tale of an invisible man tortured by his own monstrosity, as well as the world’s, was enough to keep me going from day to day. Whatever happened to Brian and Peggy, I’ll probably never know.

Edit

The Zone of Interest, by Martin Amis: On Death, Literary Fiction, and Max the Cat

Books

I don’t know if I was already thinking about mortality so intensely before reading this book, but I’m now in a thanatopic loop after finishing it. I’ve read more upsetting books on this topic, granted (Night, by Elie Wiesel), but this one seems to scream and lurch inside me when I read it, and why? Because its monstrosity comes from the mundanity of human beings.

Moral Contemplations of a Murderer

Holocaust Memorial Day passed a little while ago and the false memory of my family hung over me, as if I’d known them. I’m told there was a six year-old in that train whose blood, under a microscope, looked a little like mine does now. Alongside that faceless child, there were many more, distant aunts, uncles, traditions and stories, all murdered, all now a full-stop in my family’s history. I don’t even know their real name; British Border officials tried their faithful best, but Yakob’s surname, a now disturbingly rare and glaringly Jewish amalgamation of nouns that followed my great-grandfather, my grandfather and then my mother, is really just a Anglophonic guess at a funny foreign name. When Szmul, the only Jewish narrator in The Zone of Interest, works with the trains unloading new arrivals destined for the showers and the vans and the rifle butts, I wonder if he ever met them.

In my previous post, I quoted Paul Doll’s repeated claims of normality, then later in the novel (p.222), in another moment of introspection (sans the self-justified intentions of rape), the reader is audience to odd, near-moral contemplations. Could it be that Paul Doll is feeling the membrane of the Nazi bubble thin? Whether it be intentionally so or not on the part of Amis or his narrator, there appears to be a suspect ignorance that sits beneath these lines – it almost feels as though Doll is asking the questions simply to be viewed as moral by the reader. He swears never to allow them to recur, but would they have any effect if they did? Perhaps the only moral truth demonstrated is that Doll clearly knows that they are the right questions to ask oneself.

“If what we’re doing is good, why does it smell so lancingly bad? On the ramp at night, why do we feel the ungainsayable need to get so brutishly drunk? […] Why did the lunatics, and only the lunatics, seem to like it here? […]
. . . There is a placard on the office wall that says, My loyalty is my honour and my honour is my loyalty. Strive. Obey. JUST BELIEVE! And I find it highly suggestive that out word for ideal obedience – Kadavergehorsam – has a corpse in it (which is doubly curious, because cadavers are the most refractory things on earth). The duteousness of the corpse. The conformity of the corpse. Here at the KL, in the cremas, in the pits: they’re dead. But then so are we, we who obey . . .”

Death and cadavers, it reads a little cheaply to me if taken wholly seriously.

Literary Fiction, An Awkward Fit

“The person who deserves most pity is a lonesome one on a rainy day who doesn’t know how to read [literary fiction].”
― Benjamin Franklin (apparently)

Have you ever finished a book and wondered if you actually got it? Coming away from a book about the Holocaust and then reiterating that the Holocaust was bad is, sort of, well, obvious, after all. Barbarism is laid out in the novel, given more room for cognition, breathing replaced with an arrythmic stutter, and it made an impact, an original one at that, but did I miss something? I feel like I did.

For example, whilst I noticed Doll’s narration continuously using numerical figures where the actual noun would have been standard – “1stly” instead of “firstly” – I’m not exactly sure why Amis did it (and it does feel like Amis did it, not his narrator). Reluctantly, I searched online and found nothing substantial enough to answer me – I suspect that until a specialist in Stylistics writes on the matter, I won’t be satisfied.

I mentioned in the previous post that I was tentatively enjoying the lack of description for physical surroundings, and although I remain happy with such an approach to a novel, then add in a somewhat disorientating pace to the final third of the novel and the whole thing began to thoroughly confuse me

My point is that I finished what was a powerfully savage, and sometimes exquisite, book feeling unsure about what had actually happened from start to finish. And so it joins the ranks of those novels that I have loved the process of reading, though perhaps not found enough of a story to feel connected to it by the end. Was this literary fiction, and therefore the reason I didn’t keep up? 

I think Michael Hofmann did a superb job in reviewing the book less favourably than I would and that’s where I take some reassurance that my confusion isn’t without some grounding at least.

Max the Cat

Max, perhaps

As I researched around cats in literature, Alison Flood reminded me in her Guardian Books blog of the wonderful tale of Emir Filipović, an academic who, whilst researching his PhD, came across a 15th century manuscript stained by the pawprints of a cat, doubtlessly vying for the author’s attention. “[T]he past was full of ‘normal’ everyday events, just like today,” Emir tells Alison, “and a picture such as the one with the cat pawprints tends to remind everybody that people who lived in the past were not much different than ourselves.”

Max, whose mousing skills I quote in my previous post, is character who has no dialogue. Some would say not, claiming he’s just a literary device, easily disposed of when the time comes, and that’s fine, if you’re willing to say the same of the Jews who are wordlessly loaded off the trains and murdered, but still, just like Max, form a living, feeling force in that fictional world. 

This legendary mouser, no doubt, mirrors the plot and the ideologies within it: a ferocious killer unconcerned with either end of the scale, at cruelty or compassion, who eventually turns on those he serves. The idea that he serves anyone but himself is dubious, of course, and I’m reminded of Christopher Hitchens’ comments, “Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.”

And so here it is: I’ve always entertained my own brand of rebellion, one encapsulated by the very philosophy that I believe cats too embody, the basic and life-altering, “Fuck you.”

It’s not grounded in morality, a sadist can use it as much as a pacifist can, after all, but instead it’s looking at those in power square in the eyes, unmoving, those who would rule you totally given the chance, and saying, fuck you. When Max coolly clawed at Thomsen, drawing blood, I smiled reading it, envisioning this cat empowered by a simple philosophy. Perhaps too disposable is the idea that this feline betrayal mirrors Thomsen’s changing values in the story, or his odd humanity in the constant setting of his depravity, far too motif/thematic, too school literature lesson, perhaps; I honestly cannot pin any real, justifiable analysis on Max. But it is a glorious Fuck you, in any case, and for that I won’t forget him.

I whipped my hand away – but not fast enough; there was a thin red stripe on the base of my thumb, which in a minute or so, I knew, would start to seep.
“You little shit,” I said.
He didn’t flee, he didn’t hide. He lay there on his back staring at me with his claws unsheathed.

– p.260

100 Pages in… The Zone of Interest, by Martin Amis [No Spoilers]

Books

The Zone of Interest begins with, “I was no stranger to the flash of lightning;…”  – and, with that, the electric core of Revival does not seem so far away; this is going to be an easy transition, I think to myself.

Books by Martin Amis are, I’m told, generally considered literary fiction – what my Stylistics lecturer back at university would likely refer to as a “beardy” genre, whilst stroking an imaginary beard pensively looking out of the window. Although I am an unseasoned, inexperienced reader (and, while we are on the subject, a total grump, too), I decided not to be put off by all the assumptions and opinions that come carted behind a label like literary fiction and simply dive straight in.

Amis doesn’t waste much time describing locations. It’s an approach to writing I’ve always, in theory, loved, because it places trust in the reader, it allows them to form their own worlds free of laborious descriptions of the grass and the colour of the moss and the types of flowers… or how the damn stock market works (Sebastian Faulks, A Week In December). However, I invariably give up trying to utilise my imagination to this extent; I find it exhausting to the point at which I allow a world of disconnected walls for leaning against, roads running through woods that have no edge and only one type of tree, towns that float unmarked on maps with ever-changing streets and houses. That the characters can interact with all of these objects and places without slipping through a tear in the space-time continuum of the fictional world is simply astounding. But that’s okay, it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel – granted, it does feel a little like a hallucinogen taking hold of my mind while I read, but as long as I can remember the basics, that the main character has, for example, blond hair and blues eyes, then I’m perfectly fine…or is it brown?


What follows are a handful of some of my favourite lines from the first one-hundred pages. 

  • Thomsen is loaned a cat to sort out the mouse problem in his house…

It wasn’t long before I learned respect for this skilful and unobtrusive predator. Maksik had a tuxedoed appearance – charcoal suit, perfectly triangular white dickey, white spats. When he dipped low and stretched his front legs, his paws fanned out prettily, like daisies. And every time Agnes scooped him up and took him away with her, Max – having weekended with me – left behind him an established silence.

– p.6

 

  • Thomsen discusses with Hannah Doll, the Kommandant’s wife, the faith of the Doll’s housekeeper, Humilia. 

“And it’s all so simple.” She bent and poured, and we took our seats, Hannah on the quilted sofa, I on a rustic wooden chair. “All she’s got to do is sign a document, and that’s the end of it. She’s free.”
“Mm. Just abjure, as they say.”
“Yes but you know…Humilia couldn’t be more devoted to my two girls. And she’s got a child of her own. A boy of twelve. Who’s in state care. And all she’s got to do is sign a form and she can go and get him. And she doesn’t. She won’t.”
“It’s curious, isn’t it. I’m told they’re meant to like suffering.” And I remembered Boris’s description of a Witness on the flogging post; but I would not be regaling Hannah with it – the way the Witness pleaded for more. “It gratifies their faith.”
“Imagine.”
“They love it.”

p.11

[As a note, the faith is, I assume, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Having grown up in this religion – I left many years ago now – I hesitate to fully endorse the idea that they love suffering, and subsequently that one would plead for more. Suffering is, as much as I remember, in their eyes, confirmation of their belief that they are the chosen ones of their god –  so gratifying, perhaps, but not part of some masochistic ritual. I reserve the right to be totally wrong on this matter, by the way.]

 

  • Whilst Thomsen is a grey mix of likeable and detestable, Kommandant Paul Doll rarely strays far from the reader’s unending and total hatred.

Ach, there’s nothing wrong with Hannah that the good old 15 centimetres won’t cure. When, after a final glass or 2 of Martell, I wend my way to the bedroom, she should be suitably prompt in the performance of her spousal duty. If I do encounter any nonsense, I will simply invoke that magic name: Dieter Kruger!
[…]
I see I’d have to brood about this. I’ll sleep in the dressing room, as usual, and tackle Hannah in the morning, 1 of those 1s where you slip beside them whilst they’re all warm and somnolent, and ease up against them and into them. I won’t stand for any hogwash. And then we’ll both be in excellent spirits for our little gathering here at the villa!
   For I am a normal man with normal needs. I am completely normal.

– p.32

  • Szmul, a Sonder, describes a shared trait of his fellow workers.

 At dawn we discuss the extraterritorial nature of the Lager, and everything is back to normal in the bunkroom, we talk, we use each other’s names, we gesticulate, we raise and lower our voices; and I like to think that there is companionship. But something is missing and is always missing; something intrinsic to human interaction has absented itself.
The eyes. When you start out in the detail, you think, ‘It’s me, it’s just me. I keep my head dropped or averted because I don’t want anyone to see my eyes.’ Then after a time you realise that all the Sonders do it: they try to hide their eyes. And who would have guessed how foundationally necessary it is, in human dealings, to see the eyes? But the eyes are the windows to the soul, and when the soul is gone, the eyes too are untenanted.

– p.80

Lightning over a dark horizon - Stephen King's "Revival"

Religion, Music and Drugs in ‘Revival’ by Stephen King

Books

I finished Revival  – and without taking the planned break at page 300 to write a post marking the milestone, whoops. Instead I found myself obsessing over the story and was helpless but to relentlessly tear through the rest of the novel at every available moment. What follows however is not a review, I’m simply not one to be trusted on that front, and so instead I present a discussion of what interests me most about Revival.

spoilers

On Religion

Stephen King is a believer in God. He told Rolling Stone magazine last year, “I choose to believe that God exists, and therefore I can say, ‘God, I can’t do this by myself. Help me not to take a drink today. Help me not to take a drug today.’ And that works fine for me.”

This particular use of belief as a tool for support or strength that King seems to have plays into the novel. Where faith parts with Jamie Morton, drugs and alcohol appear to take over; where faith parts with Charles Jacobs, obsession and amorality. Both are examples of one such supportive crutch being replaced with others. Whilst this may have been the doorway to a novel that battled faith against atheism, I was glad to see King refrain from doing so.

You’re not real!‘ I shouted. ‘You’re not real! It’s all a bunch of tricks! Damn you, Jesus! Damn you, Jesus! Damn you, damn you, damn you, Jesus!

Those words are spoken by our narrator as a young boy marking the end of his belief. I like to believe that King used damn intentionally, a nod to the pervasiveness of adoptive theological language in our everyday tongue, ironically even in the renunciation of faith itself. 

 

On Music and Drugs

I recently spoke to an old friend of Stephen King. He’s a musician from Chicago, who fell into addiction at the same time that King was climbing out of it. Michael McDermott’s music (think Springsteen, Chris Rea, Dylan, etc.) made such an impression on the novelist, in fact, that an essay penned by Stephen now takes pride of place on his website. I mention Michael because I saw him, for better and for worse, in the pages of Revival. Taken in by the rock’n’roll lifestyle, both our narrator and McDermott fell into addiction at a young age and subsequently saw big-time success slip away – and just like Jamie, McDermott is now clean and sober. 

Jamie’s story feels genuine because it echoes much of what Michael has told me in our conversations: the helplessness of addiction, the hypnosis of playing rock’n’roll live, and the longevity of love through it all. Did King draw from his own experiences of addiction and those of his friends then? It seems likely.

“Nobody lives one day at a time like a drug addict. You don’t think yesterday or tomorrow. You just think now, where is it? I was high much of the eighties, and I’m not a very reflective person, so it never crossed my mind that it was an existential thing, or that it was wasteful or anything else. It was just what I was doing that day.”

– Stephen King, Guardian interview, 2000

“I went to jail for it (I was facing 3 to 6 years in prison), that didn’t stop me. Ruined relationships, that didn’t stop me. Became a car thief, that didn’t stop me. Overdosed, that didn’t stop me. […] I would be asked to speak at churches and between services I would be outside in my car, drinking whiskey and snorting cocaine.”

– Michael McDermott, in a forthcoming interview on my Huffington Post UK blog.

“The future was looking brighter. I would score at the fair, find a place to crash – maybe at a local homeless shelter, maybe outside – and tomorrow I’d ride the big gray dog to Shytown. There was a musicians’ exchange there, as there is in most big cities, with players sitting around, telling jokes, swapping gossip, and looking for gigs. For some this wasn’t easy (accordion players, for example), but bands were always looking for competent rhythm guitar players, and I was a smidge more than that. By 1992 I could even play a little lead, if called upon to do so. And if I wasn’t too wrecked.The important thing was to get to Chicago and get a gig before Kelly Van Dorn put out the word that I was unreliable, and the pisshead just might.”

– Jamie Morton, Chapter 5, Revival

 

 

200 Pages in… Revival, by Stephen King [No Spoilers]

Books
This wasn't what I was expecting.

When last we spoke, I broadly told you about the narrative and the themes of the novel – pretty standard stuff, really, but I tried my best to make it interesting. Now, leaving classroom literature discussions behind, I’m another hundred pages in and – if you can find it in your hearts to forgive my slow reading at the moment – I’ll update you on this journey.

At this point in the book it’s difficult for me to discuss anything without giving certain elements away, but I shall try my best not to ruin a single moment for you, nonetheless.

First of all, King’s treatment of time in his narrative has been an exhilarating experience – and not something I remember in any of his other books that I’ve read*. Though I have found myself in brief states of confusion as to when exactly particular events take place in the novel, I’m pretty sure that’s down to me the reader – I often find only a matter of minutes in a busy office to read and so I’m not quite able to pick up where I left off. Why, precisely, I find it such an exciting treatment of the narrative is simple: I didn’t think he could do it, or at least do it successfully. And that’s, perhaps, one of those King techniques that he does so well, layering the surprise, the mystery, the chill. It’s the moment it dawns on you, the reality of the thing that has been only a whisper or a date past by in a diary. King had it planned, he’s conspiring against you and your expectations.

Second, it’s the main character. Sometimes a first person narrator can seem contrived, they appear to have a little too much authorial skill in telling their own life story, as though they are more interested in creating suspense than getting their history down. However, Jamie Morton is one of the successful ones, a believable narrator to his own life. Of course there are points at which, as the reader, you have to employ use of the contract you make with the author, the one that states that you will accept any elements that seem a little unlikely for the narrator to know as long as they don’t threaten the enjoyment or the consistency of the fictional world you’re in. And, I should add, those slightly unlikely elements really do usually need to be there. In other words, I trust a great writer to know exactly what they’re doing – so shut up and fall in love with the story – now, onto the next one hundred pages…

 
 
 
 

*It is a regrettably small list, but I’ll leave it here all the same:

  • Carrie
  • The Stand
  • Bag of Bones
  • Needful Things
  • 11/22/63
  • Mr Mercedes
  • The Long Walk (Richard Bachman)
  • On Writing (Non-fiction, admittedly, but unforgettable)