This week, Nick and I got into feverish debate about Neil Gaiman’s books. To put this into some sort of context; we’re both huge fans, yet we often have differences of opinion when it comes to what works in his books, and what we’re not so keen on.
Here are the fruits of our conversation – fellow Gaiman fans, we hope you enjoy!
Lucy: So this should be an interesting chit-chat, given how much we’ve both wittered on about Neil Gaiman in the past.
Nick: I know, but it’s not surprising, is it? He’s such a master at creating these rich, inventive, off-the-wall novels – how could we not love him, eh?
Lucy: Yep, totally. For me, it’s like he refuses to see limitations. He never seems to think ‘this idea is too wacky’ or ‘this is way too crazy’, he just goes for it. I love that aspect about him.
Nick: And his characters. God, some of those characters are amazing. However, he can miss the mark on occasion, wouldn’t you say?
Lucy: On rare occasions, but yes, of course. On that note, shall we start gossiping about our favourites? I know what mine is, and I reckon, given past conversations we’ve had, that you’ll say the same one…
Nick: (laughing) The Graveyard Book!
Nick: It’s phenomenal, isn’t it? If there’s any single novel I wish I’d written, it’s this one. The whole concept is just ingenious – using The Jungle Book as a starting point, but migrating that idea to a graveyard settings, with ghosts instead of wild animals.
Lucy: 100% yes. I adored the way the ghosts were conveyed too, as so ‘normal’ and loveable. And the fact that the villain was actually a living human, that’s such a clever twist. Don’t you just love the protagonist’s name too?
Nick: Nobody Owens! How could you not love that name? He’s such a likeable character too, he’s so down to earth but also so brave. Just like a modern-day Mowgli.
Lucy: I really wanted to live with ghosts after reading this.
Nick: You do anyway, don’t you? What with your weird childhood home and everything.
Lucy: (laughing) I mean nice, nurturing, funny ghosts like the ones in this book. How about we move on from this book, to another of Neil Gaiman’s classic novels, and arguably his most famous?
Nick: You’re going to say American Gods, I presume.
Lucy: You presume right. I loved this book too, though perhaps slightly less than The Graveyard Book. Hmm, would it be my second favourite Gaiman book? It’s certainly up there in the top three, without a doubt.
Nick: Is that because of the TV series?
Lucy: Ha, no I loved it before that, but that series was just fantastic. Ian McShane just was Mr Wednesday, wasn’t he? He was perfect. But anyway, I veer off-topic.
Nick: Yeah, and I think the TV series was nowhere near as good as the book.
Lucy: I think you’re being a literary purist.
Nick: Pah ha! Maybe. For those who haven’t read the book, it’s about Shadow, who’s released from prison after the death of his wife, only to find himself caught up with Mr Wednesday, who is actually a god in disguise. Cue loads of other amazing gods from various different religions, who are slowly being eliminated by the modern ‘gods’ – media and technology.
Lucy: The sheer scope of this book is breath-taking. The concept alone – an epic battle between the old gods and the new, is done with such humour and panache. They’re simultaneously loveable and terrifying.
Nick: To find inspiration in the old myths too – it was such a clever idea. Why hadn’t anyone thought of it before? Speaking of which, Norse Mythology would also be right up there for me. Gaimain’s treatment of the subject is delicious. He brings the characters to life in the most incredible way imaginable.
Lucy: Noo! Don’t tell me, I haven’t read it yet!
Nick: You, not having read a Gaiman that’s been out for ages? Jeez, what’s happening here?
Lucy: To be fair, it’s on my kindle. It’s right there, waiting for me to get stuck in. I’m really looking forward to it.
Nick: You need to hurry up and get reading it. Consider yourself told.
Lucy: I am duly hanging my head in shame. Anyway, let's move on from my general tardiness at reading his latest book. What about his children’s books? I recently read Fortunately The Milk to my boys and they thought it was really funny.
Nick: Yes, definitely. Neil Gaiman takes the idea to such absurd lengths that it becomes completely madcap and hilarious. Also, those illustrations by Chris Riddell are astoundingly good. He complements Gaiman’s writing so well.
Lucy: He does. I love the fact that it’s one of those children’s books that adults can enjoy too. That’s not always the case, some of my boys’ books are virtually unreadable!
Nick: Why don’t we talk about the ones we don’t love so much now?
Lucy: Yeah, go on then. I know what you’re going to say.
Nick: Yes, because it’s the same as what you’re going to say. Good Omens, right?
Lucy: Sadly, yes. Though I recently bought it again so I could give it another go, because I’m wondering if I just didn’t ‘get’ it the first time around.
Nick: Well, I’m not convinced. I wonder if it was the Terry Pratchett influence, because it all felt a bit silly. It doesn’t feel like a Neil Gaiman book to me.
Lucy: See, I quite like Terry Pratchett at times, but even so, I didn’t warm to this book in the same way I did to most of Neil Gaiman’s other novels. I also struggled with Smoke and Mirrors.
Nick: The curse of the short story strikes again!
Lucy: It was a shame, because I usually like short stories, but about half of this book frustrated me, not least the poems, which weren’t great. However, the initial story about an old dear finding the Holy Grail in a charity shop was hilarious.
Nick: Yeah, there were definite moments of greatness there, but they were only moments. The rest was a bit incomprehensible. The only other Neil Gaiman book that I was underwhelmed by was The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It was so hotly anticipated at the time, but just didn’t feel like it delivered as much impact as the others. It was quite short too, almost novella-length rather than full-fat novel.
Lucy: I found the whole concept very poetic, and I liked that it was an examination of childhood, but yes, I know what you mean. It was a bit…
Nick: All over the place?
Lucy: Yes, that’s the phrase I was looking for. A shame, because it was a great idea. But still, overall our verdict is that he’s one of the best writers around, isn’t it?
Nick: Yeah, he’s one of the greats. Nobody can touch him when it comes to sheer breadth of imagination.
Lucy: That’s the thing I adore – all those ideas! Oh my god, we didn’t mention Neverwhere or Anansi Boys! I love both those books!
Nick: Yeah, and The Sandman.
Lucy: And Coraline.
Lucy: Oh my god, there are too many good books! Well, I suppose we’ve got to stop somewhere haven’t we, or risk going on forever and boring people senseless with our fan-ranting.
Nick: (laughing) Yes. But you know, as soon as you read Norse Mythology, we’ll be back to debating again.
Lucy: It’s inevitable, I think. Hee hee!