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   Varney took a step back: a mistake. There was a knife at his temple, the point of the blade next to his eye.
   "Further movements are not recommended," said Mr. Croup, helpfully. "Mister Vandemar might have a little accident with his old toad-sticker. Most accidents do occur in the home. Is that not so, Mister Vandemar?"
   "I don't trust statistics," said Mr. Vandemar's blank voice.
I first read Neverwhere around the time that the TV series was broadcast in 1996, though it was years before I actually saw it. I am eagerly anticipating the star-studded radio version which apparently will be out in the next few weeks. (The contrast in star level between the 1996 and 2013 broadcasts is an indicator of just how much Gaiman's profile has risen in the meantime.)

The basic concept is superb, that there is a parallel London where there is a real Angel Islington, where the sinister Black Friars guard a secret, where Old Bailey and the Earl of Earl's Court and Night's Bridge all have their realities. London is a city which exercises a strong fascination, with its layers of history, architecture and literature, and Gaiman - who is very comfortable writing about slipping between our world and Elsewhere - is on a winner by exploring that. The descriptive passages are excellent, both in terms of attention to detail and atmosphere; one can practically smell Earl's Court in its decrepit nightmare Tube carriage.

However, this is minor Gaiman. It was his first solo novel - and novels are not his forte. It is an adaptation of quite a visual script. The plot, a basic quest runaround complete with a sudden yet inevitable betrayal, doesn't really match the excellence of the setting. And I found the most memorable characters to be the sinister Croup and Vandemar, themselves based presumably on Oak and Quill from the Doctor Who story Fury from the Deep, but realised much better as a concept in the single character of the Man Jack in The Graveyard Book. Of the good guys, the most interesting is the Marquis de Carabas (memorably played by Paterson Joseph in the original TV series) and the nominal protagonists are rather flat on the page. It is entertaining enough, but not the top rank.

Scrapes through the Bechdel test with a conversation between Door, Hunter and Serpentine on pages 167-168 where they all ignore Richard and talk about each other.

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
surliminal
Feb. 9th, 2013 02:32 pm (UTC)
Indeed. Neverwhere is an odd thing both as tv and book. It had fantastic atmosphere but almost cartoonishly flat characters and no plot. From tv I remember the Lady Door, local actor Laura Fraser who has gone on to have another curiously mixed career. In fact the cast grew up to be quite important - even if they were unknowns then.
But it has had huge cultural influence , on Mieville notably and recently in C4 !s Utopia the invincible and ghastly bad guys are clearly torn from straight from H and V.
nwhyte
Feb. 9th, 2013 03:35 pm (UTC)
I saw Tanya Moodie, who played Hunter, live in a play about Rwanda (The Overwhelming) at the National Theatre in 2006.
swisstone
Feb. 9th, 2013 02:47 pm (UTC)
Are you rereading your original copy, or a copy of the 'preferred text'? The latter is a considerably richer work.
nwhyte
Feb. 9th, 2013 03:31 pm (UTC)
Aha. No, I'm on the original copy from 1996. Gaiman autographed it for me in 2003 (on the very day I started this Livejournal) and commented that a new version was on the way.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 9th, 2013 06:22 pm (UTC)
I recommend the later text - I read both in rapid succession last year, and that later version is definitely better, and may address some of your comments about the characterisation, if not the plot.

I think it's a bit unfair to do the cast comparison. There's some truth to what you say, but there were some names involved in the tv version - Freddie Jones, for a start, and Stratford Johns. Okay, those are cameos, but Hywel Bennett was a notable actor in a major role, and Capaldi was hardly a newcomer in '96. Maybe not as stellar as the radio cast, but assembling that sort of cast for radio is easier and cheaper, and I doubt you'd be able to get the same actors for a tv version even today.

I think it's a better novel than it is a tv series - largely because there are a lot of very good actors delivering dreadful performances. And, whilst the novel is no Stardust, it still seems to go down well with students.
nwhyte
Feb. 9th, 2013 07:16 pm (UTC)
I will probably rewatch the TV version to compare with the radio series when it comes out.

I agree that Peter Capaldi had already won an Oscar (though as a director in a less prominent category) by 1996, so was not exactly obscure! And I am not at all suggesting that the 1996 cast were second-rate. But I think you must agree that Benedict Cumberbatch in 2013 is ever so slightly ahead of Peter Capaldi in 1996; let alone James Macavoy/Gary Bakewell, Natalie Dormer/Laura Fraser, etc etc. It may well be cheaper to assemble those forces for audio, but I doubt that a 1996 audio version would have attracted a cast equivalent to the 2013 audio, any more than the 1996 TV version did.
swisstone
Feb. 9th, 2013 10:30 pm (UTC)
Oh, I agree there's something to what you say, I just don't think the degree is quite as intense.
swisstone
Feb. 10th, 2013 04:10 pm (UTC)
On the other hand, getting Romola Garai for the fairly minor role of Jessica is quite a coup.
nwhyte
Feb. 10th, 2013 05:19 pm (UTC)
Indeed.

The TV version had Trevor Peacock, who is solid but not quite a household name, as Old Bailey; the radio will have Bernard Cribbins.

Similarly Freddie Jones played the Earl in 1996; this year it is Christopher Lee.

Hywel Bennett (1996) -> Anthony Stewart Head (2013).

Arthur Whybrow (who?) -> Andrew Sachs.

Sean O'Callaghan (who?) -> Johnny Vegas.

I submit that the differences are pretty substantial!

swisstone
Feb. 10th, 2013 07:45 pm (UTC)
I agree that there are substantial differences (though I don't think Head is that much bigger a star more than Bennett was in 1996) - what I'm arguing is the differences are not solely down to the greater pulling power of Gaiman (though obviously that's a factor), and that the change of medium is a significant factor; I doubt, for instance, that there would be any chance of getting James Macavoy for a television version. (And remember that whilst Gaiman was unknown in the television world back in 1996, the series' producer, Lenny Henry, was a big start, with considerable pulling power.)
swisstone
Feb. 9th, 2013 06:24 pm (UTC)
Okay, that anonymous comment was supposed to be from me - I seem to have been logged out.
katlinel
Feb. 9th, 2013 05:38 pm (UTC)
Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar have always reminded me of Mr Wint and Mr Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever.
swisstone
Feb. 9th, 2013 06:48 pm (UTC)
There are plenty of literary and other precedents. Wint and Kidd I'm sure are among them, but so are the hitmen in Hemingway's 'The Killers', and I have an idea that there might be similar characters in Shakespeare, Dickens or Chandler, but can't quite think of any specific examples right now.
katlinel
Feb. 9th, 2013 10:04 pm (UTC)
I didn't say there weren't. They all, no doubt, riff off each other.
swisstone
Feb. 9th, 2013 10:29 pm (UTC)
Indeed so. Sorry, didn't mean the comment to sound as snotty as it did.
katlinel
Feb. 9th, 2013 10:40 pm (UTC)
:-) If you do think of other examples, it would be interesting to hear them. I can't think of others right now either, but I'm sure there must be.

ETA: Of course, there's Hale and Pace's Two Rons as well, another popular culture connection rather than a literary one.

Edited at 2013-02-09 10:55 pm (UTC)
nwhyte
Feb. 9th, 2013 07:18 pm (UTC)
Sure. But Diamonds Are Forever was 1971, and Fury From The Deep 1968; so I shall cling to my Whovian delusion.
katlinel
Feb. 9th, 2013 10:02 pm (UTC)
The book was published in 1956 and the film's been repeated far more often on TV than that Doctor Who series. :-)

It's a big world; plenty of room for all our theories.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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