Once upon a time, I wrote a post about commas and what they're for and what they're not for. It's a good post and one that's absolutely true. The fact that people are constantly starting sentences with a conjunction and, then, throwing a comma after it to show me that they are pausing after they say it drives me crazy. I don't care if you're saying, "So," and taking a breath; that comma doesn't go after it. For instance:
It is not:
"So, do you want a piece of pie or not?"
"So do you want a piece of pie or not?"
If you want to indicate the pause to the reader, use, "So... Do you want a piece of pie or not?"
The point being that the way we say this culturally, right now, is just that: it's the way we say it right now. Five years from now, we may not throw those pauses in all over the place while we speak, and I don't need you to show me how you're saying it. I just need you to convey the correct meaning.
Anyway... The post about the commas coupled with this more recent post about following the rules when you write serve as the backdrop to this review.
Neverwhere was the last book by Neil Gaiman that I hadn't read. I'm not sure why I hadn't read it; I just missed it somehow and, then, kept not getting around to it. But, finally, I did get around to it. It has displaced, surprisingly, The Graveyard Book as my favorite Gaiman novel. I say surprisingly because, at first, I was a bit confused by it. Not the story. I was confused by Gaiman's sudden inadequacy with the comma. They were all over the place and in places they didn't (and shouldn't) need to be. What the heck? None of Gaiman's other books have comma issues; why would this one?
Have you ever heard Neil Gaiman read one of his stories? Well, I have, and he has a particular cadence when he reads, when he's doing any public speaking (heck, for all I know, he always talks like that), and I realized by the time I had finished the prologue that the extra commas were there because Gaiman was, in fact, telling me how to breathe. Where to pause. When to go on. In effect, he was creating a particular atmosphere, a rhythm, that was just as if I was sitting here letting him read it to me. And it was awesome.
But, see, that's what you can do when you know what you're doing with the rules. It's knowing the rules and taking them and bending them to your purpose. Sure, probably more than half of the commas (actually, I'd bet more like 2/3 of the commas) don't belong. They're in places where they shouldn't be. But, then, you'd read too quickly and lose the atmosphere, the creepy, of the story. Gaiman wrote it to give you the effect of being underground, in tunnels, lost, confused. Of not knowing what's going on, whether your sane, or, even, if you are who you think you are.
I loved it.
And, now, I've flipped. I've gone from having his most recent novel as my favorite to having his first novel as my favorite. I don't think, either, that it's just because it's the one I've most recently read. I don't remember ever reading anything where the author paid so much attention to the atmosphere he was creating through his use of punctuation. Not that he necessarily did it on purpose, of that I have no idea, but he did do it.
And we haven't even started talking about the story yet. Which is great. Disconcerting. Full of interesting characters. The marquis. Croup. Vandemar. Things are rarely what they seem. Even when they are. "I've saved his life four times today already." [Or something like that. I couldn't actually find the quote in what I felt was a reasonable amount of time.]
Best of all, though, it doesn't end the way you expect these kinds of stories to end. The way they usually end. And I would talk about that, but I don't want to talk about the ending, so I'm not going to. All I can say is that you should go read it. I'm fairly sure I'll have to read it again one of these days, and I really don't do that rereading thing, so that's saying quite a bit.
"...if this is all there is, then I don't want to be sane."
[If, by chance, you do want to listen to Neil read, you can go to here. I've only listen to the first two so far, but they're worth it. (The January one reminds me of something Briane Pagel would write.)]