Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: Neverwhere

Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: urban fantasy, science fiction
My Rating: ★★★★ (4.5)

Neverwhere-horz

Letting myself be ‘bitten by a radioactive Gaimanesque tale’ is probably one of the best things I did while exploring contemporary literature. Perhaps it did not transform me into some kind of a spandex-clad superheroine, but it gave me a peek into worlds of not-quite-dreams and not-quite-realities that made sci-fi and fantasy genres my cups of tea. These are worlds that only Neil Gaiman can bring to life. Once you get past their doorjambs, there’s no turning back. They are all damningly addictive.

Neverwhere, Gaiman’s first solo novel, is one of the bigger proofs that can easily justify his King of Fiction status in my personal lit hierarchy. It follows the story of young Brit everyman Richard Mayhew, whose life was turned upside down after helping a wounded girl on the sidewalk. He loses his fiancée, his job, his apartment, and nearly his mind. Suddenly it is as if he does not exist anymore—he has become semi-invisible, a non-person. He soon realizes that it is only this way with London Above. After he aided Door, the injured girl, he has unofficially linked his existence to London Below, a grittier and more dangerous parallel place to the one he has always known. In order to make sense of what is happening, he accompanies Door as she escape thungs on her trail, hoping that he can go back to his life in the end.

Neverwhere is an excellent amalgamation of almost all the essential elements a first-time Gaiman reader has to acquaint himself/herself with. There is the theme of ‘doors into alternate worlds’, angels, borrowings from other literary masterpieces that he tweaked into perfect molding with his story (Easter eggs from Lovecraftian tales are easily my favorite), and of course, magic. With his sterling prose, Gaiman blended and hooked these elements onto a fast-paced plot that is not just chockfull of adventures, but also of things you can pick up on a journey to self-discovery.

The ensemble of characters is wonderfully colorful. I liked Richard a lot, despite being a very nondescript antihero. Trying to untangle himself from the mess he got hurtled into by his Good Samaritan act, he is often stuck between being stubbornly reluctant and tremblingly terrified in assuming the role of a savior—a role he has to accept anyway, despite almost always filling the shoes of the guy-in-distress. It is worth noting though that in his unassuming eyes, he had just become some kind of a gender-bent version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy Gale, desperate to go back home. He develops a quite understandable one-track mind. Before he can achieve his goal, however, he will have to face ordeals that will bring a lot of enlightenment about himself and life in general. 

The determined Door, the enigmatic Hunter, and the sassy Marquis de Carabas are intriguing characters that provide a stark contrast to the otherwise bland (albeit charming) protagonist. The plot leaves too many questions about them though, and I wish Gaiman will indeed go back and answer these or even expand this universe.

What I liked the most about this book is how Gaiman’s ace world-building made it seem like the two Londons have lived to become characters in the story as well.  Gaiman has once said that Neverwhere can be read concretely, but there is something about the whole ‘fraternal twin’ cities as he presented it that suggested heavily of satire. The busy London’s underbelly is often populated with those “who fell through the cracks in the world.” They can clamber back up, but if they are not completely ignored by the Aboveworlders, they will remain in their memories for no more than a moment. 

London Below residents are basically Rummage Sale Rejects on two feet; even the Lady Door, daughter of the prominent Lord Portico, is clad in an assortment of dirty colorful fabrics beneath an oversized leather coat. Based on their appearances, Under-wordlers are very possible representations of beggars, vagabonds, runaways, or even just those who lost their residences and jobs. Like in many major cities, losing either of the two is grounds for becoming a ‘non-person’ to other people, so to speak. Now, remember how Richard takes great notice and—does not forget—the wounded Door the first they meet? It thinks it is chiefly because only the kindest and most compassionate people are the ones who acknowledge or help these ‘Underworlders’.

As for the prose, what can I say? Gaiman does not dial down when it comes to showing his writing talent. Along with the characters, London Below came alive…a gritty, dangerous, and labyrinthine place where time and consequences roil differently from its counterpart. Replete with humor, action, and drama, the book is packed with stunning imagery (OH, and watch out for the torture scenes, for in the recesses of my post-nightmare memory a few nights ago I can see glimpses of the whole thing. It still disturbs me when I think about it.) 

The plot is admittedly sewn from standard tropes, but the execution is done exceptionally, capped with a Gaimanesque twist. The ending left many people disturbed or dissatisfied because it flips one substantial part of the book into what seems to be a wild goose chase, but I liked it a lot. The only things I am concerned about are the questions I mentioned above. 

4.5 stars for a very satisfying read!

___

PS: I'm deeply saddened to hear the news that a New Mexico high school has pulled out Neverwhere from its reading list because a parent complained it has graphic sexual content, or something along that line. I think the school's decision to pull out ('temporarily ban'?) the book is a knee-jerk reaction. From the news bits I've read Neverwhere has been on their curriculum since 2004, and there hasn't been a complaint ever since. Why relent easily to one mother's objections? Why pull out the book 

For the curious, click here to see the, um, "jumper-fumbling" scene. Honestly, the point of the whole thing is to underscore Richard's "invisibility" to them, and if the dear mom is having problems about the language  or the make-out scene itself she should try watching the shows her kid watches right now, or just spy on a bunch of high school kids to hear how they talk these days. *BIG SIGH*

NO TO BOOK BANNING!

Little Trip to Little Tokyo

Feeling the need to satiate our inner Japanophiles’ cravings, my friend Angel and I went on a Fridate food trip to a mini-district that earned a reputation for being a ‘palatable’ piece of Japan here in our country: Little Tokyo.

torii

The restaurant village is easy to miss, as it was nestled meekly in the hustle-and-bustle of downtown Makati. Dwarfed by its neighboring buildings, it is only marked by red shrine gates or torii. But with the big buzz it causes in the Internet, it seems that adventurous gastronauts have no problems whatsoever in finding their way here to get a taste (or re-taste) of the distinctive Nippon cuisine it is famous for.

We arrived a little past 6:00PM; people are starting to pour in for dinner. The Zen gardens inside, softly lit by lamps and red lanterns, will make you feel like you are indeed in a little pocket of the Land of the Rising Sun. Most patrons are Japanese expats, too.

little tokyo

We first went to Izakaya Kikufuji, one of the bigger restaurants in the place. We only have a few hours to spend for a couple of reasons (one of which is, for me, having to wait for ages to get a cab or a bus as consequence to missing the train). Since we want to try at least two restaurants before we go, we only ordered something we can easily wolf down: fresh sashimi!

inside Kikufuji

sashimi 
Over this heavenly plate and mugs of deliciously brewed green tea, Angel and I shared stories and exchanged random comments about the place. She mostly let me “steal” as many fish slices as I want, as long as I will let her taste everything first. The  fresh and flavorful treat sent my taste buds to cloud nine one slice at a time.

sip

We were not done with our meal when we began talking about our next trip to the place, preferably with more friends. Our order cost us about Php 900.

Before going to our next food stop, we dropped by Choto Shop (aptly named, since that was actually from choto matte—as in, ‘wait’ or ‘stop for a moment’. Even their logo is a rip-off of Mini Stop). Since neither of us can expertly read Japanese, we stick to products that have English labels, those that have pictures, or simply those that we easily recognize regardless of the language written on the package.

purchase

Being the budding tea evangelists that we are, we enthusiastically assaulted the tea rack and  chose a bunch we think we should try. We got ourselves two kinds each, promising to share what we have the next time we meet. I got myself a pack of plum-kelp or ume konbucha tea (my first taste of seaweed tea, which wasn’t really bad, though I think I’d like it more as broth instead); loose-leaf green tea; furikake; and three sticks of dango (dumplings), which we ate later in the night. Angel got herself a bunch of tea packs too, and some chocolates.

After that, we hurried to Hana restaurant, a small place you can spot easily since it has a takoyaki griddle outside its humble establishment. And indeed, it was a little “flower” in the place.

Hana

takoyaki

We sat at the bar and split our order of piping hot takoyaki, the taste of which shamed all my previous tastings of mall-stall takoyaki in my life. I mean, even the fish shavings were tasty enough to make me drool. It was savory inside and out, with all the sauces and mayo and the real octopus bits.  Priced at Php160, this is definitely worth going back for.

inside Hana

green tea kakigori

If you do drop by Hana, do not forget to try their kokiguri or flavored shaved ice. We chose the green tea-flavored one, and we could barely contain our foodgasm moments. I loved how the milky-matcha taste reaches even the finest ice shavings at the bottom of the bowl, unlike the pseudo-kokiguri I have tried before that lose their flavors halfway down their container. The red bean flavor at the top was an added treat, making their combination perfect (borrowing from someone: “Green tea and red beans is totally my OTP!”). I won’t hesitate to try this dessert again. It costs Php130.

It was past nine when we went out of Hana. Thinking there was still time to catch our respective rides home (I know the MRT closes at 10:00PM and there were shuttles still for Angel), we slumped on one of the stone benches inside the district, shared stories again, and munched on the dango we bought from Choto Shop.

dango

The dumplings were quite tasty, but neither of us actually liked it. Angel repeatedly compared the sauce to tempura dip. As for me, my taste buds have no actual problem about it…it was my imagination that has.
I can eat seafood, poultry, meat, whatever…as long as the animal’s head is nowhere to be seen. Any part of the head—the eyeballs and the brains especially—is just an invitation for my previous meal to make a reappearance. Now, the dumplings look an awful lot like preserved eyeballs or something, and its gooeyness and saltiness (and the general quirkiness of Japanese culture) just didn’t help me. Oh, and I have my brain to thank for being helpful in dredging up splatter film scenes in my head. I triumphantly finished one stick, although not without letting out a hushed string of not-so-strong expletives. I know, I know, I would not even be fit for a mild Fear Factor audition.

Quite satisfied for the night, we went home with a promise to come back, perhaps at an earlier hour so we get to enjoy more of Little Tokyo. :)

___

PS: Bookworms who follow my blog, don’t worry, CICB has not magically transformed into a food blog. More book-geekery in the next posts!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A lifelong friend indeed.


book doodle

It’s been ages since I last doodled something book-related, and all I can give is a poorly scribbled one like this. Apologies! I’ve just been so busy lately with work and stuff, but I do hope you stick around. :)

Friday, October 18, 2013

‘Miss Peregrine’ news bits


The cover for Hollow City, sequel to Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, was revealed a couple of weeks ago by EW. Check it out:

HOLLOW-CITY-COVER (1)

I think it perfectly complements the cover of its predecessor, which features a levitating little girl, Olive (it is, in my opinion, a mixture of eerie and cute). Anyone else excited for the new set of strange, vintage snapshots in the book—and more of Jacob and peculiar kids’ adventures? :)

In other news, apparently they are releasing a graphic novel version of the first book. Click here for more info.