Why I Always Show Up For Neil Gaiman

It’s arrived, Savvy Readers. The much-anticipated Good Omens miniseries – written and directed by Neil Gaiman himself, thank you very much – was released onto Amazon Prime in full last Friday, and I was READY. We all have those authors that we will show up for, rain or shine, for each new project they announce, don’t we? Neil Gaiman is one of those for me. What a delightful weirdo.

“You see a wile, you thwart. Am I right?”

― Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens

A good binge sesh later and a visually spectacular romp through heaven and hell, and I have to ask myself: what is it about this author that keeps me coming back for more? He’s prolific, bestselling, and decorated with too many awards to count, but none of that is it. Why do I keep coming back to Neil Gaiman? My reasons are fivefold, Savvy Readers. Read on for every single one:

1. A Genre-Defining Imagination

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“Beware of Doors.” 
― Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

Let’s start at the start, shall we? Never mind the fact that Gaiman’s 1997 debut novel, Neverwhere, was a #1 New York Times Bestseller, or that people all over the world continue to read it even 20 years later. Neverwhere changed the game. Richard Mayhew’s plunge through the cracks of reality set the tone for contemporary fantasy, mapping gritty layers of magic, horror, and utter strangeness over (or in this case, under) everything that is familiar and mundane about our world. It’s been a miniseries, a number of variations on itself as a published work of fiction, and an illustrated novel. It’s no surprise to me. Neverwhere remains a touchstone for the genre, full up with enough imagination to return to again, and again, and still find something new.

2. Master of the Uncanny

Ocean at the End of The Lane: backdrop of dark blue water, title in white in the centre, a girl in a white dress floating, submerged, in the upper-right corner

“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren’t.”

― Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

There are few authors I know who can create that deep, lingering feeling of the Uncanny the way Neil Gaiman can, and nowhere more intensely (for me, at least) than in his most recent adult novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I’ve thought a lot about why that is, savvy reader. Though billed as a fairytale about childhood, memory, and the search for self-identity, this novel does not fit as comfortably into the fantasy genre as Good Omens or Neverwhere, despite its mythic elements. The familiarity that the Uncanny plays off in this novel is such an intimate familiarity… inside the nameless protagonist’s house, interfering in his parent’s marriage, influencing his own memory… The Ocean at the End of the Lane stuck with me in a way no plain old horror movie ever has. I was haunted by this novel, no two ways about it. Any writer who can do that is worth sticking around for in my books.

3. A Writer’s Writer

The View from the Cheap Seat cover: Neil Gaiman dressed in black, sitting on a red couch with his hand to his mouth in thought

“Honesty matters. Vulnerability matters. Being open about who you were at a moment in time when you were in a difficult or an impossible place matters more than anything.

― Neil Gaiman, The View from the Cheap Seats

I love some good writing, Savvy Readers. I’d hazard a guess that a lot of you do too. The good news is we’re in good company – and we can count Gaiman among that company, too! You only need to pick up a copy of The View from the Cheap Seats to be convinced. The collection of essays – covering storytelling, music, bookshops and libraries, inspiration, and more – is really just his love letter to the written word. Gaiman is a writer who loves writing. He believes in fiction, and its power to catch on to just a little bit of truth. That goes a long way with me, savvy readers. If being witty and inciteful weren’t enough for The View from the Cheap Seats to endear Gaiman to me, the playful glimpse into the ethos of his writing would have kept me coming back to his work – new and old – for years.

 

4. Dark Humour

American Gods cover: Lightning striking a road disappearing towards a central vantage point  Anansi Boys cover: A red spider silhouetted against a white web in the centre of red cover with gold writing

“I think there are several aspects of our marriage we’re going to have to work on.”
“Babes,” he told her. “You’re dead.”
“That’s one of those aspects, obviously.”

― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Neil Gaiman is funny, ok? Uncanny beauty, and cosmic terror, and truth in fiction, and all that aside … Neil Gaiman is funny. Find a book that can do both, right? I’ve got TWO for you: American Gods and its sequel, Anansi Boys. Lauded, beloved, multiple award-winning novels about the battle for the soul of America… and full to the brim with dry wit and some tour-de-force dark humour. I love a bit of literary fiction, personally. I really do. But if I can’t laugh a little while the murky underbelly of my own reality shakes me down for all I’m worth then, really, what’s the point?

5. The Absolute CHARM

Coraline cover: figure carved of wood, holding a candle as gray spirits reach for her

“I’m bored,” she said.

“Learn how to tap-dance,” he suggested, without turning around.”

― Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Let’s end with Coraline, eh? How charming was Coraline? So charming. I could have picked almost any Neil Gaiman book to try and demonstrate just how charming his writing can be (The Ocean at the End of the Lane for one, you know. I will shamelessly plug that novel anywhere), but Coraline takes the cake for me. The feeling of childhood – all its adventure, and anxieties, and absolute wonder – is so potent in this novel. Secret doors, and button eyes, and the infinite possibilities of all the lives that you could lead… He nails it again. Creepy, funny, beautiful, sure! All the Gaiman hallmarks. But there’s also something about a Neil Gaiman book that just feels like drinking tea on a rainy day no matter what the weather is, and that’s the charm. Or the Britishness of it all. I like to think that it’s the charm.

That’s all from me, Savvy Readers! May all your binge watches be long and fruitful, and your favourite writers keep turning out the quality stuff! Let me know what your favourite Neil Gaiman novel is in the comments down below over twitter at  @SavvyReader! Which authors do you find yourself coming back to year after year? Tell me all about your faves!

Happy reading!

Maryn

@SavvyReader

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