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.

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.

 

 

Christine, by Stephen King

Books

There is a reason that reviews tend to be negative when it comes to Christine – it’s not that it’s a terrible book, it’s that there is just too much of everything in it. It takes too long to move the car from one place to another, never mind the narrative, and where the rare moments of incisive teenage mental angst come, they arrive in the minds of under-nourished characters. However, for all the negatives, it is hard to outright demonise this giant volume, the product of a shit ton of coke and booze in the body of a bestselling novelist, because it still delivers the sort of tricks that only King seems to manage. For one thing, he made the junky, forgettable concept of a demonic car sort of, well, memorable. As King himself said in a 1984 interview,

An audience can relate to a certain degree to something like a haunted house, The Amityville Horror, traditional horrors like ghosts, vampires and things like that. You give them a car, or any inanimate object, and you’re suggesting something that is either along the pulpy lines of the E.C. comics, or else obviously symbolic. […] When you do that, you’re really starting to take a risk. But, that’s also where the excitement is. If you can make somebody go along with that concept, that’s really wonderful.

Christine is the name of a ruined old Plymouth Fury that ensnares a young, acne-ridden teen, Arnie, to open his wallet and then later his soul. Dennis, his only friend, is forced to watch from a distance (literally; he’s in hospital for half of the novel, taking a break from narrating things) as his nerdy little friend becomes the world’s most unlikeable dick. Will Dennis get his friend back from the borders of Crazy Town, or will the old car steal poor Arnold Cunningham away forever?

I took a break from Christine about halfway through to read a couple of other books. When your book is over 700 pages long, it’s easy to stray into the warm embrace of a 300 or 400 paged other lover. But, as it turned out, it was good to come back to it after that break. As James Smythe notes in his Guardian blog, there is a formula oft quoted to the ridicule of a King story: “x (where x = any seemingly innocuous thing: dog, hotel, clown etc), + y (where y = possession, demons, the undead) = novel.” He acknowledges that this only applies to those commercial favourites, of course, whilst thankfully the real gems tend to avoid such easy accusations. But what can be a criticism can also be a redeemer – formulaic can be cosy, it can be like an old friend who always tells the same stories but you enjoy hearing them anyway, and you enjoy them doubly when you haven’t heard them for a while. That is how Christine feels.

The world of Christine is like the world of Carrie, of Needful Things, of Pet Sematary, of any number of others because, aside from the fact that most King books reside in the same fictional universe anyway, they also share a habitual tendency to dedicate themselves to the lives of the working class, of the oddballs, of the young. He writes these characters with almost obsessive desire to plant colloquialisms, to live out their ordinariness, their father who drinks beer and watches sports, their dog or cat loved by the children – and then the ground is ripe for extraordinariness.

Although there are weighty criticisms levelled at Christine, it remains undeniably an iconic novel in genre fiction, with cruel imagery to corrupt even the biggest Herbie fan. If you are intent on reading the majority of King in the coming years, as I am, Christine needs to be on your list. It is essential reading – so get in the car, because Roland D LeBay is driving and he’s not a patient man.

Finders Keepers, by Stephen King – Boring Bill Can’t Ruin This Ending

Books

There is a problem with Finders Keepers and its name is Bill Hodges. While other characters are exciting, despicable, and electrifying, Hodges manages to slow down the pace and the prose, he manages to stagnate the narrative. The characters around him begin to wade through his aura of mundanity and they too start to do things more slowly; as others are fighting for their lives, or committing atrocious crimes, Bill Hodges is thinking about how little he understands computers. And then he’ll spend some time thinking about that thing that happened a few years ago and the fact he eats salads but he doesn’t like them but he does.

Finders Keepers obligingly allows old Bill in about a third of the way into the novel. There he is, eating a goddamn salad, on his way to corner a criminal. King doesn’t seem to want to make him interesting, and it should be no particular surprise. It’s the rather dull characters that we imprint on, the ones who until now have led envious, but not exciting lives. Jake in 11/22/63 is no one very special, called upon to do something extraordinary. Mike in Bag of Bones is a pretty standard writer whose most enveloping mystery is his own life. But for Bill, who has led a seemingly self destructive, exciting buddy cop movie sort of life, and then retired, he has never really surpassed his own history. He’s perhaps a little rubbish at it all now. He is no Inspector Clouseau, but unentertainingly close. 

All that bitching and moaning out of the way, I still ended up loving Finders Keepers (big surprise there). When Boring Bill Hodges comes on the scene, it took me a long time to regain pace, but I’m glad I stuck with it. Morris Bellamy is a superb, cold and brutal villain, far more entertaining than Brady Hartsfield from Mr Mercedes, and he is a sadistic joy to read. Pete Saubers continually reminded me of Arnie Cunningham from Christine, but unlike Arnie, Pete seems to curb his obsession before it becomes possession.  Holly and Jeremy bore me tirelessly, sorry Bill, I find even your friends uninteresting.

Read Finders Keepers for its ending. Like Mr Mercedes, the finale to this novel closes a classic King young vs old narrative, before giving you all the reasons in the world to read the final book in the trilogy. If you, like me, felt apprehensive about the Hodges trilogy because it all seems too ordinary, the final book seems to be anything but ordinary. So read the books, even if you don’t like Hodges, because what’s coming is going to be worth it. 

Finders Keepers, by Stephen King – Time Travel and the Trouble With Present Tense

Books

I wasn’t a huge fan of Mr Mercedes, the first book in the Bill Hodges trilogy. For me, it lacked the twisted energy that I love about King, it seemed to be gruesome and disgusting in all the ways you wanted, but it never quite tied everything together into a driven narrative. King’s magic is in pulling you into a moving story, feeding you drugs of character and snippets of misdeeds, stepping down on the pedal, swerving and taking risks on bumpy routes, and you love it and you forget you’re a literary hostage.

If you’ve been sentient during the run-up to the release of the book, you will know the opening line, because it headed all of the press campaigns: “Wake up, genius.” But don’t let all the comparisons with Misery put you off – I’m convinced that’s a bit of press from Hodder & Stoughton to bring back the old fans and nothing more – because the only thing you really need is a passing knowledge of Mr Mercedes. So, enough of the intro, the question is: is it actually worth it?

I just finished Part 1. It’s taken me since the book’s release to get this far, not because of the book, but because I recently moved house at the same time as doing buckets of overtime at work. But now I’m settled in my new place with two dogs, two guinea pigs and two humans, so I’m starting to find more time for reading and for writing. Which means that I have the time to say this: Finders Keepers is, so far, bludgeoning Mr Mercedes over the back of the head with a page turning blunt instrument. 

The characters, the events, the world that I’m slipping into is all characteristic of the King I love, and same one I feared I had lost with the first Bill Hodges story. Morris Bellamy has been a grotesque joy to explore in Part 1, his place as the delusional, psychotic villain is firmly, deservedly earned and I’m beginning grow very, very afraid for what Part 2 has in store for those who may be meeting him. Pete Saubers, a young boy whose story begins over thirty years after Morris’s is courageous and resourceful, and completely likeable. It’s been said before, so I won’t tire you with some inane discussion on it, but King writes children not just as absorbing characters to root for, but also as complex, honest depictions of how a child is, how they secretly feel and how they make sense of the world around them. That these two characters share a narrative gives me excitement and total horror.

Time Travel

Finders Keepers, as the dust jacket will eagerly tell you, is a story set around three crucial years: 1978, 2009 and 2014 (do not read the dust jacket, read the story, there’s no magic in the dust jacket). Throughout Part 1, the narrative swaps between these years; we see our characters’ histories, their ideas, their families and, most importantly, their trajectories as they traverse their lives, ultimately knit together by small worlds. They will collide eventually and with each swap of decade, each paralleled thought and life echoed across the years, their collision becomes more worrying. 

The Trouble With Present Tense

Part 2 opens, “Kermit William Hodges […] drives along Airport Road” – well, shit, I think to myself. I don’t like present tense. Present tense asks something more of a reader, it asks that you take your attention and use it to push the narrative forward, if you stop caring, you so easily stop reading. With past tense however, past progressive if we’re getting a little technical, you are always playing catch up – if Hodge was driving, you now want to know what he did after he was driving, this opens up the field for the basics: where was he driving? Why? With whom? And what happened after that? But give that in present tense and the questions barely surface, you’re dealing with language that is very matter-of-fact and therefore needs to deliver excitement immediately – sadly, Bill Hodges driving and eating a salad ain’t cutting it so far. In my opinion, the best place for present tense is the opening to a noir, if only those first few sentences of Part 2 actually felt enough like a noir.


And so what comes next? This post has been sat on my dashboard for a couple of weeks and I’ve been continually backspacing and editing it, whilst making my way through Part 2 of the book. I can certainly say that the downbeat final paragraph of this post carries less weight as I’ve persevered, it is not all present tense and in fact the language is playful and the narrative increasingly complex, with delicious twists in time and perspective.


For prolific King readers: These Stephen King Connections Will Blow Your Mind

Christine, by Stephen King – Bullies and Retribution

Books

I’m a little over one hundred pages in. The world is building and the narrative engine is popping and grunting and coming to life. I, much like Arnie Cunninghham, will soon be possessed. 

 

Exceeding seven hundred pages, it would be hard for my discussion of the first hundred to really offer any spoilers beyond what a brief reading of the blurb would do, so you’ll be pretty safe reading on. The story goes like this: one day Arnie, a serially bullied and ridiculed pot faced teenager, spots an ugly, battered and broken, complete shit heap of a car for sale at the side of the road. At the time, Dennis, his only friend, tries to convince him not to waste all his wages on the car, to at least consider something better at half the price somewhere else – but Arnie is hooked and soon becomes worryingly obsessed with this rusted, eery Plymouth Fury.

If you have read Carrie, you’ll know how well King writes retribution. Power out of powerlessness, strength out of loneliness, the underdog takes a bite even if it may spell its last. Carrie, that abused girl, who turns on her bullies, I wonder if Arnie will do the same. His existence seems too painful, too miserable to miss out on some great retribution. He is the kid who is tripped in school hallways, who is punched and kicked and spat on for being different. But now something has him, it is an obsession with a car that creeps Dennis out, that is slowly changing Arnie into several different people. 

Will this darkness that Christine embodies take a hold of Arnie? Will retribution become cruel sport? I really hope so. 

Letters to a Young Contrarian, by Christopher Hitchens: Rebellion and a Reading List

Books

You should rebel with Hitchens. Few books on a shelf carry with them by mere sight of their spine such heavyweight provocation. In fact, you should learn with Hitchens, and delight in language and in the love of books with Hitchens, too. 

John_Lennox_and_Christopher_Hitchens_debating2

Banned Books and the Spiritual Experience

My childhood was governed in many ways by the conservative religion in which I was brought up. No ungodly entertainment was acceptable in the view of the church; anything with demonic elements or characters in them, like ghosts, spirits, demons and devils, these were all gravely frowned upon. There were to be no themes that contrasted or disagreed with doctrine either, so anything that promoted ideas of evolution, positive views of homosexuality or feminism, or magic. That meant books too. These books, personally influenced and inspired by Satan, like Harry Potter or anything written by Terry Pratchett, if seen to be in the possession of a church member, would cause more than just whisperings in the congregation.

In my later teenage years, after the strength of my faith began to wane, I decided to start tracking down those forbidden texts that promised so much outrage from my congregation and my family. 

I found the books, I kept them hidden, and in small moments, I began to read them. After straying into the pages of other well known contrarians and academic rebels, I was finally to find my place in those of Christopher Hitchens. My point though, before I get ahead of myself, is not to get hung up on exactly the words he used (that comes later), it’s more the religiousness of the feeling those words gave me.

1280px-Olivehurst,_Yuba_County,_California._Another_view_of_church_on_Second_Avenue._Preacher_was_a_migrant_._._._-_NARA_-_521579

Not this church, it’s just a nice moody photo.

If you have never left a place of worship after a captivating service or finished a long, heartfelt prayer, then perhaps there is an experience you have not yet had – the spiritual, religious experience is seemingly like no other. It is, in my opinion, not wholly a positive experience though, it’s hypnotic and it’s overwhelming, but it might be nonetheless somewhat unique. You look out at your surroundings, the world may as well have changed completely but imperceptibly, like ground beneath every footstep and brick admitting guilt to holding up an elaborate illusion. You are seeing things differently, for what they really are. Every car, building, street, face, movement and moment, they all exist only as symbolic confirmation of the truth embodied in your strengthening faith. 

It is my opinion that this is a state of mind to wary of – and if any book makes you feel like this then you should read another immediately afterwards that entirely disagrees with the first. Not because you’re wrong to feel enlightened, or spiritual, but because there’s a good chance that such a powerful feeling, like any other addictive drug, will make you want more with no care for whether or not it is good for you, never mind whether or not it is true. It’s one reason why some people become religious extremists, why others buy into fascist or racist doctrines, and it’s probably also why some people think John Green writes authentically. 

The ironic religiousness, or spirituality, of reading Hitchens’ god Is Not Great has never left me – it was in the pages of this book, by the way, that I found my place. I have since read around him and against him, challenged his opinions and formed my own – but he has always remained irrepressibly brilliant. And although his famous anti-religion polemic is a superb read for anyone regardless of belief or non-belief, I can’t help but wish I had found Letters to a Young Contrarian sooner, back when I was looking for that perfect way to rebel, to find myself.

A Reading List

Hitchens has always been a prolific recommender of great writers and books, and this volume of his squeezes in a fair few more invaluable additions to any well-round reading list.

J’accuse …! – Émile Zola

Emile Zola could be the pattern for any serious and humanistic radical, because he not only asserted the inalienable rights of the individual, but generalised his assault to encompass the vile role played by clericalism, by racial hatred, by militarism and by the fetishisation of “the nation” and the state. His caustic and brilliant epistolary campaign of 1897 and 1898 may be read as a curtain-raiser for most of the great contests that roiled the coming twentieth century.”

The Strange Death of Liberal England – George Dangerfield

Hitchens only mentions this “magnificent book” in passing, a note within a discussion and critique of the work of Rainer Maria Rilke. However, the book was often on the lips of some well-read acquaintances when I was at university, and so I’m inclined to see this as a strong endorsement.

Dr Israel Shahak

“I have a dear friend in Jerusalem […] His name is Dr Israel Shahak; for many years he did exemplary service s chairman of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights. Nothing in his life, as a Jewish youth in pre-1940 Poland and subsequent survivor of indescribable privations and losses, might be expected to have conditioned him to welcome the disruptive. Yet on some occasions when I have asked him for his impression of events, he has calmly and deliberately replied: “There are some encouraging signs of polarisation.” Nothing flippant inheres in this remark; a long and risky life has persuaded him that only an open conflict of ideas and principles can produce any clarity.”

A Dance to the Music of Time – Anthony Powell

“Oriental religions, with their emphasis on Nirvana and fatalism, are repackaged for Westerners as therapy, and platitudes or tautologies masquerade as wisdom. […] Anthony Powell […] captures the foolishness of such mantras very well in his depiction of the followers of the sinister Dr. Trelawney. Adepts of his cult recognise each other by the greeting: “The essence of the all is the godhead of the true” and by the response “The visions heals the blindness of sight.””

Zen at War – Brian Victoria

“[…] which, written as it is by a Buddhist priest, exposes the dire role played by Zen obedience and discipline in the formation of pre-war Japanese imperialism.” 

An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding – David Hume

Although he never outright recommends this in the book, he has often quoted from it and from what Hume I have read, it is very readable and enjoyable. For one of the occasions on which Hitch discussed Hume, here is an entertaining example.


From Chapter, or Letter, XIII onwards, Hitchens saturates the reader with recommendations and quotes and thinkers and writers that everyone should read, and so I will stop here and simply implore you to buy this superb collection of letters. The book is, I am being reminded as I flick through, indispensable, and worth whatever it costs you. It is here, here or here.

I leave you with Dulce Et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen.

World Poetry Day: The Absurd Genius of Spike Milligan

Books, Poetry

Today I saw a little worm

Today I saw a little worm
Wriggling on his belly.
Perhaps he’d like to come inside
And see what’s on the Telly.


Spike Milligan - Today I saw a little worm

I was helping to clear out the garage at my brother’s house some weeks ago, before he moved house. Sorting through almost three decades’ worth of toys and accessories, games and crayon drawings, I came across “A Children’s Treasury of Milligan” in one of my boxes. Amongst those stacks of cartoons and pieces of Lego and school books in the old ratty cardboard box, the cover of this hefty book shone out and I needed no time to remember what I was looking at.


There was a young soldier called Edser

There was a young soldier called Edser
When wanted was always in bed sir:
One morning at one
They fired the gun
And Edser, in bed sir, was dead sir.


On the three hour long drive back after our visit to my brother, I sat in the passenger seat reading from cover to cover this old prized possession, whose words I barely remembered. And page by page, line by line, rhyme by rhythm, I saw some of my origin, a little bit of where I came from. Spike’s poetry, the humour, the intelligence, and the irreducibly creative absurdity that he placed in everything he did, seems to have had a home in me for some time. I was always odd, I never fitted in – nothing has changed, I can report – and this man led a life completely devoted to that, devoted to the thing everyone gets bullied for at school, being different, being weird. I’m a little absurd, too.


Sardines

A baby Sardine
Saw her first submarine:
She was scared and watched through a peephole.

‘Oh, come, come, come,’
Said the Sardine’s mum,
‘It’s only a tin full of people.’

spike milligan - sardines


Too many people are so concerned with fitting in and making friends and being part of a crowd that their weirdness is reduced down to minor hobbies or repeating every week that they think they’re going down with something (but they never actually do). So today I’ll be reading more of Spike’s poems, not because he was always silly, sometimes he was serious, but because I’m still far too worried about fitting in.


Hamlet

Said Hamlet to Ophelia,
‘I’ll do a sketch of thee,
What kind of Pencil shall I use,
2B or not 2B?’

A Political Book Haul

Book Haul

The Rise of Islamic State – Patrick Cockburn

Waiting for a train at London’s Waterloo station, I found myself inside Foyle’s, drawn instinctively as any bibliophile awaiting a train generally is found to be. Patrick Cockburn, quoted by the likes of Chomsky et al, seems unfaltering in his ability to make me rethink my position on dauntingly serious subjects, and so to see a book about ISIS written by him was irresistible. 



The following were bought from the beautiful Daunt Books, in Marylebone.

No One Left To Lie To – Christopher Hitchens

I’ve been writing a post about Hitchens for a while now, I finished his Letters to a Young Contrarian several weeks ago but haven’t found all the words in the right order to do him and the book justice. He was cutting in his life and in what he published, ruthless and sometimes wrong, but always superb in his writing, and his style in general, and so with Hilary Clinton now preparing her candidacy for the Presidential bid, it seems only right to read this. I’ve seen from many essayists that the dark, manipulative side to the Clintons is something to be feared, especially when in power, and so this may well turn out to be a book I shout about over the next year.



The Atheist’s Mass – Honore de Balzac

Balzac is a name to me, I am ashamed to say, and nothing else. Though with only a name, there is mystery and so I chose this tiny volume for that very reason. The title offers a sort of irony that I enjoy. I make no secret of the fact that a passion of mine is the philosophical, the scientific and the literary interplay between faith and atheism, and in the form of these new pocket size Penguin Classics, it felt only right to delve a little deeper and further away from what is familiar.



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