Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Someone else will have to write the definitive review of Neil Gaiman's darkly comic fantasy novel Neverwhere, for I didn't make it past page seventy.

That's not Gaiman's fault. Neverwhere is a perfectly entertaining story, at least so far, with enough colorful whimsy and clever lines to fill a Monty Python movie. There's an Arthur Dent-type urban everyman as protagonist, a mysterious damsel in distress, two Looney Tunes villains whose urbane, Dickensian dialogue only heightens their cartoonish menace, a host of Doctor Dolittle-like transgressions of the animal-human communication barrier, and enough impressionistic descriptions of London proper and the London underground to fill a Fodor's guide.

To be sure, I'm not usually one for the fantasy genre. Fiction is already unreal enough for me; fantasy fiction seems like overegging the pudding. Moreover, having seen "Stardust" on the big screen and a recent, Neil Gaiman-penned "Doctor Who" episode on the small screen, I think I get Gaiman's recurring meme: normal meets fantastical at a mysterious frontier, to both scary and wonderous effect, à la Terry Gilliam. The spooky, semi-occult themes of fantasy lit don't often grab me -- but that's not what stopped me from reading this light, slightly subversive thriller in mid-noir.

Nor can I articulate any particular objection I had to Roy Blount, Jr.'s Hail, Hail, Euphoria!, the noted humorist's personal, crafty, scene-by-scene explication of the Marx Brothers classic flick, "Duck Soup", that kept me from finishing that book; nor can I recall why An Object of Beauty, Steve Martin's amiable novel of the modern art collecting world, failed to capture my eyeballs for more than a couple of chapters, for it too looked promising; as did a fascinating historical treatment of the New York City art world, The Pop Revolution by the late Alice Goldfarb Marquis.

I actually did finish The Year of the Hare, a wry picaresque tale set in Finland that became a touchstone of the 1970s back-to-nature movement. In truth, however, Arto Paasilinna's symbolism-laden allegory was less than 200 pages long and super-simple reading; it's one of those Euro-fables that your foreign language teacher might have assigned to your tenth grade class, were it not already in English. Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou, a starkly riotous and ribald African novel of similar brevity and simplicity, comprising a series of low episodes told to a street-smart Congolese bartender and relayed in his purported diaries, deserved a much better fate in my hands than it received, but halfway through fell victim to my all-too-brief attention span and manic library habits.

Therein lies the tale. Each trip to the public library is a festival of eyes-bigger-than-stomach reading avarice. The ritual begins with the guilt- and sadness-inducing return of a big bag o' books that I haven't even begun to read, despite initial excitement, earnest intentions, one or two online renewals, and a grace period, along with perhaps two or three books that I speed-read through page twenty or fifty in the last hour of their due date, just to get the sense of what I would be missing, before dropping them into the slot. There! Now I can focus on the two or three checked-out books still at home, left behind as it were, a sensibly small number of items awaiting my undivided attention. Naturally, as long as I've already spent the gas money to return the others, I'll just take a quick peek at the New Books section by the front door...and two and a half armloads later, I'm on my way.

Once home, I'm doomed, pile-driven to distraction by a looming, unread stack of erudition and expert storytelling on the oval side table in the living room, the defined check-out period for each item establishing an anxiety-inducing expiration date. There's compound guilt, of course: so long as I'm not reading them, I'm not experiencing the cozy, enlightened life of writerly illumination that I'd imagined they would confer upon me when I checked them out; so long as they're in my possession, I'm preventing another equally delusional County Library cardholder from checking them out with similar earnest intent. The cycle repeats.

Only one way to break this pernicious recurrence, this wretched "Groundhog Day" scenario, this Fortuna-thon: discover a new musical infatuation on YouTube to absorb my restless mental energies, and return all the books. As it turns out, they have CDs at the library, too.

1 comment:

  1. I loved Neverwhere! It was actually my first Gaiman book, and it lead to many more which I've also loved. My particular favorites are The Graveyard Book (Purportedly YA, but what does that really mean, except that it hasn't got any sex in it? And really, in a story about a young teen, I should hope not.) and Anansi Boys. Stardust is great, too, though I didn't love the movie. The ending of the book is to the ending of the movie as a sunrise is to turning on a lamp.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...