I’m slightly daunted about saying things about a Neil Gaiman book. I suppose, as most of the things I read are obscure or dubious at best, I can get away with mixed feelings and grumbling and such, and no one will really care because they’ve either not read them themselves, or concur about the aforementioned dubious quality. Neil Gaiman is Actually Good, and more eloquent people than me have written more eloquent things about his work already… and probably rather more eloquently. That said, I’ve been trying to post about all the fantasy and SF books I’ve been reading since I started this (there have been some exceptions, mostly when I’ve been too far from a computer when I finished the book, and for a while after, so by the time I got back, it wasn’t fresh enough in my mind… and sometimes when I just couldn’t be bothered) so I probably ought to give it a go. But instead of evaluating it as a book (the answer is simply “it is very good”) I’m going to talk about how my feelings on it have changed between first reading and this one. Because it’s annoying me.
I first read Neverwhere quite a few years ago… probably in 2007 or 2008, but I’m not certain. I went through a bit of a Neil Gaiman phase for a while, and read everything of his I could find at the time, then didn’t ever really get around to reading any of it again, with the exception of Good Omens because well… yeah. I very much remember how I felt about reading Neverwhere the first time around, and it’s interesting for several reasons. Firstly, it was the first solely Neil Gaiman book I read, and secondly, it was when I was younger and had less SFF reading to compare it too… and thirdly because my tastes have changed. I remember loving Neverwhere. Not complete mad adoration like Good Omens, but the sort of love a really really good book deserves. It spurred me into reading more of his books (American Gods, then Stardust, then Smoke and Mirrors, then Anansi Boys… and so on and so on), some of which I loved more, some less, and it did what stuff I was reading then often didn’t which was have a really good writing style (when I was 16 or so, I tended to read more traditional fantasy stuff, but the crummier end of it… I think I read Neverwhere around when I read my first Terry Goodkind book, for instance). Coming to it now, having read a lot more (both better and worse)… I lost my love for it. Which is kind of sad. I enjoyed it as a book. I acknowledged that what it was doing was good and skilful and clever and interesting. But I no longer have an emotional level of appreciation for it. I just acknowledge that it is good, I don’t care.
I honestly don’t know why I don’t care. I remember caring a great deal about several of Gaiman’s books. I shall probably reread them to see if it’s true for them too. But the burning fire of fandom has definitely gone for Neverwhere. It’s not even as if I’ve read it too much or anything, as it’s only my second time. I’m tempted to think it might be that my tastes have just got worse over time (and I’m sure plenty would agree with me on my lack of good taste in books/music/films) and so I no longer actually enjoy things that are Properly Good because what I really like is trash. I do like trash, this is true. But I don’t think it’s that, because I have read and loved some Properly Good things recently too (all that China Miéville has to count for something, right?). Possibly the answer is just simply that Neil Gaiman isn’t my thing anymore. But that doesn’t seem right. I mean… he’s one of the big amazing fantasy authors, and I like fantasy. I have read and liked his books. I still adore one of them. How can he not be my thing? How can I read something that I once loved, seeing all about it that’s good and worthwhile and clever… and all I feel about it is “meh”. It’s odd. I don’t like it.
I’m also certain this isn’t a completely recent feeling. I very much recall that my reading of Neil Gaiman books was generally a progression of things I liked more than the book I read previously, so Neverwhere < Stardust < American Gods < Anansi Boys (I can’t quite remember where the other books fitted into the chronology so I’m leaving them out). But I don’t think I considered the issue much at the time, and just lumped them all together as “books I really like because Neil Gaiman is awesome”. And it wasn’t so much that I thought the next book I read was considerably better than the previous… more that I re-evaluated my opinion of the previous book and lowered it compared to the one I was reading at the time. Then didn’t think about it afterwards at all. Silly child. My memory of how good I thought Anansi Boys was puts it as about as good as I thought Neverwhere was when I read it, but better than Neverwhere by far. Clearly my brain has a mark for “this is how good Neil Gaiman books are” or something. I don’t know.
I’m rambling a lot here, and I’m not really going anywhere with it. I genuinely have no idea why I don’t love this book anymore. It annoys me, but that’s how it is. I suppose I shall have to conclude “brains are weird” and leave it at that. So yeah… sorry… wasted your time reading nearly a thousand words of “how odd…”.