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Posts Tagged ‘Neil Gaiman’

I am coming to the party nearly a month late, but here I am finally. Here are my favourite books and my favourite reading moments from last year – books which were amazing, writers who were fascinating and everything in between with some fun facts thrown in along the way.

First a small description of how my reading year went. I started off quite well, but at some point after a month or two, I got into a reading slump. And this led to a blogging slump, and though I managed to recover from the reading slump during the second part of the year, with the exception of German Literature Month, I couldn’t come out of my blogging slump. I have never had a blogging slump like this since I started blogging more than seven years back. I hope the worst is over and I hope I will be a better blogger this year.

Fun Stats

I read fifty books last year. I thought because of my reading slump, I hadn’t read much, and so I was surprised when I discovered that it was not as bad as I thought – it was a typical reading year by my standards 🙂

The breakup goes like this : Novels : 17; YA : 3; Short Stories : 7; Fairytales : 1; Plays : 1; Graphic Novel : 2; Comics : 10; Anthology : 1; Poetry : 6; Memoir : 2. That is pretty diverse – not bad.

I read 33 books by male writers and 15 books by women writers – I aim for a 50-50 split and so that was bad. It was probably because all the comics I read were by male writers. There were two books that I didn’t count here – one was an anthology which had excerpts, stories and poems by different writers and the other was a poetry collection.

With respect to the countries from which the books were from (that is the nationality of the author – not the country where the story happens), the breakup went like this : America : 10; Britain : 7; Germany : 7; Belgium : 5; Italy : 3; Switzerland : 2; Chile : 2; Japan : 2; Canada (French) : 1; Canada (English) : 1; Russia : 1; France : 1; Finland : 1; Norway : 1; Lebanon : 1; Austria : 1; China : 1; India : 1; Greece : 1; Romania : 1.

I considered Vladimir Nabokov Russian, Rabih Alameddine Lebanese (though both of them probably were / are American citizens and wrote their novels in English) and Zoë Jenny Swiss (though she has started writing in English now and might have a British passport).  I also included Canada (French) and Canada (English) as separate categories because French literature from Canada is so ignored these days. Even Canadian readers don’t seem to know their French authors. It is so sad, because French-Canadian authors are so wonderful. (Nicole Brossard is my favourite.)

In terms of the language in which the books were originally written, this is how it went : English : 20; German : 10; French : 9; Italian : 3; Japanese : 2; Finnish : 1; Norwegian : 1; Chinese : 1; Tamil : 1; Greek : 1; Romanian : 1.

Most of the books were from the four big European languages – so, Hello, need more diversity here 🙂

Books I Loved

These are my favourite books from last year – books I absolutely loved. I couldn’t review many of them because of my blogging slump, which is unfortunate.

(1) The Pollen Room by Zoë Jenny – The story of a teenage girl and how she copes when her parents break up. The prose is beautiful and haunting, the story is moving and sometimes heartbreaking with some happy moments.

The Pollen Room By Zoe Jenny

(2) The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault – A beautiful epistolary love story between a Canadian postman and a Guadeloupe woman, this book is also a love letter to the Haiku poetic form.

The Peculiar Life Of A Lonely Postman Denis Theriault

(3) The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (graphic novel version) – The graphic novel version of Gaiman’s classic story of a boy who is brought up by ghosts in the graveyard. The story is beautiful, and in this edition the galaxy of artists assembled deliver a stunning work of graphic novel art. A must read for graphic novel and Gaiman fans.

TheGraveyardBookByNeilGaimanPart1TheGraveyardBookByNeilGaimanPart2

(4) New and Collected Poems by Mary Oliver – Mary Oliver is one of my favourite poets and this collection has poems from many of her books. Beauty in the form of poetic art.

NewAndCollectedPoemsMaryOliver

(5) The Summer Book by Tove Jansson – Tove Jansson’s love letter to the Finnish summer, it is also the story of a young girl and her grandmother and their experiences in an island. Though it is a whole book, it can also be read as a collection of individual short stories. My favourite story was about Moppy the cat. It is one of the finest evocations of summer that I have read, alongwith Ray Bradbury’s ‘Dandelion Wine’.

SummerBookToveJansson

(6) An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine – The narrator of the story is a woman who used to work in a bookshop (and who is now retired). She is shy and introverted and spends most of her day reading. Every year she translates one or more famous world classics into Arabic. While telling her story and sharing with the reader what she does everyday and stories of her past, the narrator also shares her thoughts on books, reading, literature, writers, the art of translation and everything else that booklovers love to talk about and think about. This book is a love letter to reading, books, literature, translation and everything in between. I am so glad that I discovered it.

AnUnnecessaryWomanRabihAlameddine

(7) Cassandra by Christa Wolf – A retelling of the Troy legend from the perspective of Cassandra the prophet, it makes one realize how different things are when we see them with a new perspective. Wolf’s stunning prose leaps out of every page and I couldn’t stop re-reading my favourite passages again and again after highlighting them. One of my alltime favourite books.

Cassandra

(8) A Time to Love and a Time to Die by Erich Maria Remarque – There are a few scenes in Remarque’s ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ in which the main character goes home on furlough for a few weeks. Remarque takes this small part, moves the setting to the Second World War and expands it into a whole book. After a slow start, Remarque’s trademark prose flows beautifully, the plot moves smoothly and the main characters’ thoughts on war are quite fascinating. And the heroine of the story – Elizabeth – is one of the most fascinating heroines from any war novel. This is not just a wonderful war story but is also a beautiful love story. I can’t wait to read more of Remarque’s books. I read this for the Literature and War Readalong hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. I promised myself that I will write a proper review of this book one of these days and I hope to do so soon.

ATijmeToLoveRemarque

(9) Wild Words : Four Tamil Poets – This book has poems by four Tamil women poets who first came to prominence more than a decade back, because the patriarchy threatened them. Our heroines, of course, defied them, and have published many wonderful poetry collections since. I loved this passage from the introduction to the book – “It is perhaps useful to remember that the traditional values prescribed for the ‘Good’ Tamil woman were accham, madam and naanam (fearfulness, propriety, modesty or shame). Our poets have chosen instead, the opposite virtues of fearlessness, outspokenness and a ceaseless questioning of prescribed rules. It is surely significant that at different times and variously, they have claimed as their foremothers, role models and equals, Avvai, Velliviidhi and Sappho; Anna Akhmatova, Sylvia Plath and Kamala Das. And Eve, above all, who defied divine authority to pluck the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Bad Girls indeed, all of them.”

WildWords

(10) Letters of a Peruvian Woman by Françoise de Graffigny – It is the story of a Peruvian princess who is abducted by Spanish invaders who take her to their ship, but who is later rescued by a French ship and taken to France. There her rescuer takes her to his home, tries to teach her French language and culture and treats her like family. Our Peruvian heroine becomes best friends with her rescuer’s sister. The whole story is told as a series of letters that our Peruvian heroine writes to her fiance, who is the Peruvian king. Her observations on the differences between the two cultures are very insightful and humorous, Graffigny’s prose is beautiful and the surprise in the end takes us unawares – must have been stunning when it was first published in 1747. This books deserves to be more widely read, because it is so good.

LettersOfAPeruvianWomanGraffigny

(11) Making Movies by Sidney Lumet – The director of such masterpieces like ’12 Angry Men’ and ‘Network’ shares his thoughts on how to make a movie and the challenges involved. Though the technology he talks about is dated (because the book was published in the 1990s and Lumet mostly worked in the pre-digital era), his insights are wonderful. This book is a wonderful education in the art of film-making. A must-read for all movie lovers.

Making Movies By Sidney Lumet

Honourable Mentions

The following books deserve special mentions. It is really an extended list of favourites.

(1) Dylan Dog comics – This is a comics series which I discovered last year and which was originally published in Italian. The stories are mostly set in England and the characters are supposedly English, but our hero Dylan Dog wears stylish Italian suits and it is so hard to believe that he is anything but Italian. The artwork is stunning and the stories are interesting – mostly murder mysteries or strange happenings, some of which have logical explanations and others which seem to have supernatural causes. Umberto Eco says this about Dylan Dog – “I can read the Bible, Homer and Dylan Dog for several days without being bored.” Well, I am in good company 🙂

DylanDog

(2) A Little, Aloud – It is an anthology of prose and poetry for reading aloud to someone we care for. I didn’t read it aloud though and I read it to myself. It has poems, short stories and excerpts from novels and memoirs and other books. This was the book which got me out of my reading slump and so I have a lot of affection for it. My favourite from the book is a story by Saki called ‘The Lumber Room’ – it is so beautiful and the main character is an adorable and charming naughty boy and we love him from the first page and the ending made me smile 🙂 If you are interested you can read it here.

ALittleAloud

(3) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – A beautiful story about love and loss and how a boy copes with it. And there is a monster in the story, which teaches him the truths of life. What is not to like? I have to thank Claire from ‘Word by Word’ who recommended this beautiful book to me.

MonsterCallsPatrickNess

(4) The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart – It is the story of a young boy who is suffering from cancer. He discovers that the cancer has come back and there is no escape this time and decides to leave home, take his dog with him and climb Mt.Rainier. It is beautiful, charming, happy, sad and has a wonderful ending. A book I read in a day.

TheHonestTruthDanGemeinhart

(5) Poems that make grown men cry – The ‘men’ in the title made me hesitate (what about poems that make grown women cry) and most of the poems in the collection were by male poets and that also put me off, but I browsed the book and the poems were wonderful and I couldn’t resist getting it and reading it. It is a beautiful collection and I loved many of the poems, especially Billy Collins’ ode to his mother and Harold Pinter’s love poem. There is a companion volume which is expected this year and it is called – you guessed it – ‘Poems that make grown women cry’. I can’t wait for that.

PoemsThatMakeGrownMenCry

(6) The Death’s Head Chess Club by John Donoghue – I don’t know anyone who has read this, but the fact that it had ‘chess’ in the title made me read it. It is the story of a Jewish prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp who is the chess champion among the prisoners and an SS officer who is trying to start a chess club among the officers. When word of the legendary chess champion inmate reaches him, the SS officer can’t resist introducing a championship between the champion officer and the champion inmate. Of course, this can never go well. Whether they do here – you should read the book to find out. A love letter to chess and how small things like this can build bridges between people who are on opposite sides of the divide. This book deserves to be more famous.

TheDeathsHeadChessClub

(7) The Marvels by Brian Selznick – Brian Selznick brings his unique style of storytelling again, combining pictures and artwork interspersed by words which move the plot to tell the parallel stories of a family of actors and a young boy who runs away from school to stay at the home of his uncle, who turns out to be odd, and in some way connected to this actor family. The artwork is stunning and the story is nice.

TheMarvelsBrianSelznick

(8) Bluets by Maggie Nelson – I have to thank Bina from ‘If You Can Read This’ who first told me about this book. I don’t know whether to call this book a long essay or a memoir. In it, Maggie Nelson talks about love and longing, while also meditating on the colour blue and what it means to us today and what it meant to us across history. She quotes philosophers and writers who have written about everything blue and her style reminds us of Alain de Botton’s – with the book having no chapter divisions and each paragraph being numbered.

BluetsMaggieNelson

(9) Children’s Stories from Rumanian Legends by M.Gaster Delia from ‘Postcards from Asia’ told me about the Romanian legend of Harap Alb and when I thought about it, I realized that I had a collection of Romanian fairytales (which is unfortunately, out-of-print today). So, I took it out and read it and it was wonderful. I loved the fact that things were not black-and-white in these fairytales – in one story the main character falls in love with a beautiful woman (who loves him back) and then discovers that she is a demon and both the lovers run away to escape the clutches of her demon-father; in another story, there is an adorable little-devil who is always up to some mischief, creating trouble for humans. I hope to read more Romanian fairytales in the future.

RumanianLegends

So, that is the long (and hopefully not boring) account of my reading year in 2015. How was your reading year in 2015? Which were your favourite books?

 

 

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A few weeks back I went to the bookshop after a very long time – a real bookshop. I spent the whole evening there and couldn’t leave at the end of it. All the old memories of shopping in bookshops came back – the beautiful ambience, the fragrance of books, the wonderful new discoveries, the gentle music, the book-ish conversation with the bookshop assistants. I wondered why I don’t go to bookshops more often, because I love it every time I do. Though these days I discover most new books through blogs and the internet, the bookshop still holds surprises and beautiful gems. I discovered new books that day which I hadn’t seen anywhere or heard anyone recommend – they were beautiful surprises which made me very happy.

One of the books that I discovered was the two volume edition of the graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Graveyard Book’. I have wanted to read this book for a while and I was hoping to read Gaiman’s original, but when I saw the graphic novel adaptation, I couldn’t’ resist getting it. It was adapted into graphic novel form by Craig Russell, who had done similar work on Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’. My first introduction to Gaiman’s work was Russell’s graphic adaptation of ‘Coraline’ and so I was excited. But this time things were different. The thing was this. Russell had assembled a galaxy of eight artists (including himself) and asked each artist to work on a chapter. (there is one chapter on which two artists have worked and there is another chapter on which three artists have worked). So it was nine chapters and eight artists – and the result was a stunning work of art. Words like ‘stunning’, ‘amazing’, ‘wonderful’ (my favourite) have become clichéd these days because we meet them in every page and sometimes every passage we read. But here, I am not using it just for effect. I really mean it in its best, most brilliant sense. The artwork is stunning. I didn’t realize the full effect of it till I picked the graphic novel version of ‘Coraline’ and ‘The Sandman’ – both Gaiman books known for their artwork – and checked them in comparison. The difference was stark. The galaxy of artists has done its work brilliantly in ‘The Graveyard Book’ and I think this edition on its own is a brilliant literary graphic work of art. A must read for lovers of the original book and for all Gaiman fans. Though I loved all the artists’ work, I liked some of them more. What is life, after all, if we don’t play favourites and love some people more than others? 🙂 My favourites were Kevin Nowlan (who illustrated the first chapter and part of the eighth chapter) and Scott Hampton who illustrated the hundred-page mammoth seventh chapter and part of the third chapter. My favourite chapter in the book though was the fourth one called ‘The Witch’s Headstone’ in which my favourite character in the book Liza Hempstock first makes her appearance and plays an important role. I wish I had known her and I could meet her everyday – she is such a beautiful, warm, friendly, adorable ghost. (Hempstock seems to be Gaiman’s favourite name – the Hempstocks make an appearance in ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ too, though they are a different family.)

TheGraveyardBookByNeilGaimanPart1TheGraveyardBookByNeilGaimanPart2

So, yeah, I have sung enough praises about the book 🙂 Now about the story. I must be the last person to read the book and so you must already know the story. If you haven’t read it yet, here is a brief summary. A bad man called Jack murders a family – the parents and their daughter. The toddler baby son somehow escapes and enters the local graveyard. The ghosts see him and he is able to see them. The bad man Jack enters the graveyard to kill the baby. The ghosts have to make a decision on whether to save the baby boy or not. They decide to save him. Then the problem arises on what to do with the baby. Because the graveyard is no place for a living baby. The ghosts have a meeting and after a lot of heated discussion and after being mediated by someone more powerful than them, they decide to keep the baby and raise him and keep him away from trouble. The graveyard is populated by fascinating characters – ghosts most of the time, but at times we meet ghouls, a vampire, a werewolf and other strange creatures. But most of them are not what they appear to be – there is more to them than meets the eye. Sometimes humans stray into the graveyard. The boy who is now called Nobody Owens (‘Nobody’ because he doesn’t have any other name, and ‘Owens’ because his adopted parents (who are ghosts) are called the Owens), makes friends with a human girl and they play for a while. But living in the graveyard is not conducive to friendships with real people and things don’t go well with her as expected. Bod (Nobody Owens) tries going to school after a while, but that is hard too. Bod’s parents the Owenses love him but they also bring old-fashioned parental practices while bringing him up. Bod’s guardian is Silas. He is not living and he is not dead and it is never clearly stated what he actually is, but he is tall, wears a dark cloak and looks like the Count – the rest is left to our imagination. There is Miss Lupescu who comes one summer to teach Bod – she is hard and tough on him, she teaches him things which he feels will never be useful, but later he discovers otherwise, and he and we readers, see that there is more to Miss Lupescu than meets the eye.

I can tell the whole story here, but I am not going to. Go, get this gorgeous graphic novel adaptation and read it yourself.

This version of Gaiman’s book is one of my favourite graphic novels from recent times. It is vintage Gaiman in terms of the story, the characters, the dialogue, the humour and it is also a stunning work of graphic art. I would highly recommend it. Now, I want to read Gaiman’s original and see whether I missed out on something.

Other Reviews

Caroline (from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat)

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I have read a couple of Neil Gaiman books before – ‘Neverwhere’ and ‘Coraline’. Actually the edition of ‘Coraline’ I read was the graphic novel adaptation of the novel, but the prose in it was very similar to that of the novel (I checked, before buying). I liked both of them. I didn’t know that Gaiman’s new book had come out this year till I started seeing it in bookshops and in Goodreads and on friends’ reading lists. I like Neil Gaiman – very much – but I don’t love him. He is not my favourite writer. This is a very odd thing. Because I liked both the books of his that I read and I also enjoyed the film version of ‘Stardust’ and I spent a fortune acquiring the fancypants edition of ‘The Sandman’ (it is one of my alltime favourite unread editions (I hope to remedy the ‘unread’ status sometime) – I, who don’t really take care of my books well and allow them to gather dust, have kept it carefully, wrapped in cellophane paper in a dust free environment – and I hope, one day, to read ‘The Graveyard Book’ and ‘American Gods’. All this should be enough for a writer to become a favourite, but for some reason Gaiman hasn’t made that invisible leap across that vague, deep chasm which separates my ‘likes’ from my surprisingly-near-but-impossibly-hard-to-reach ‘loves’. It is very difficult for me to articulate why. I can only hope that as I continue to read Gaiman, one day he will make that leap.

The Ocean At The End Of The LaneByNeilGaiman

So, to cut a long story short, when I got to know about ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ I didn’t really go out and buy it and read it on the same day. I knew that I would read it sometime, but I postponed that moment and forgot about it. Then I read Delia’s (from ‘Postcards from Asia’) charming, unconventional review of the book and then I realized that I had to read it. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.

 

The basic story told in ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ goes like this. A middle-aged man, who is the narrator of the story, returns to the place of his childhood. Then he stops by at the house of his old neighbours, the Hempstocks. Surprisingly they still live there after all these decades. He is looking for a woman who is closer to his age, called Lettie, who he used to know when he was a boy, but she doesn’t seem to be there. Her mother (or is it her grandmother – our narrator is not able to tell) asks him to wait near the duckpond at the back of the house, while she makes tea. And then, suddenly, his old memories start coming back and he remembers the time when he spent a few days at the Hempstocks’ place when he was a child and the strange things that happened then – how the paying guest staying at his home committed suicide which opened a Pandora’s box and brought otherworldly beings to earth and how they played havoc and how one of them entered his own home and how he had to escape her and go to the Hempstocks’ home and how he discovered that though the Hempstocks – a grandma, a mother and a daughter – looked like simple farm people they had magical powers which he couldn’t explain and which they used to help him – well to know what happened next, you should read the story.

 

Gaiman’s story is an interesting, fast paced, gripping fantasy. It can be read by readers of all ages and depending on the way we read we can enjoy it in different ways. I was happy to see references to the Big Bang, wormholes, creation of the moon and girls born without biological fathers (is Gaiman getting feminist here?). It is also about how strangers help us in very important, life-altering ways when we are children and how we seem to forget about them when we grow up. The three women characters in the story made me think of the three women in Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’. In between, Gaiman offers his own commentary on the child and adult way of doing things, and not surprisingly, inspite of being an adult for quite a while, we identify with the child’s way of doing things. I loved the Hempstocks and I loved the black kitten / cat with the white mark on her ear. The story is gripping from the beginning to the end and makes one want to turn the page to find out what happens next. It made me think of Stephen King. The book is short, at 243 pages, and I was sad when it got over.

 

Well, now I should get another Gaiman book to read, or maybe open that wrapped package of ‘The Sandman’. It is time, I think.

 

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

 

‘That’s the trouble with living things. Don’t last very long. Kittens one day, old cats the next. And then just memories. And the memories fade and blend and smudge together…’

 

Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.

 

      ‘I bet you don’t actually look like that,’ I said. ‘Not really.’

      Lettie shrugged. ‘Nobody looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody.

 

She really was pretty, for a grown-up, but when you are seven, beauty is an abstraction, not an imperative.

 

I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.

 

      ‘How old are you, really?’ I asked.

      ‘Eleven.’

      I thought for a while. Then I asked, ‘How long have you been eleven for?’

      She smiled at me.

 

Have you read Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’? What do you think about it?

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I borrowed Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ from one of my book club friends sometime back. I realized that I hadn’t read a ‘proper’ Gaiman book yet and so I thought I should start now. (I have read a graphic novel version of ‘Coraline’ but I don’t think that counts). I finished reading ‘Neverwhere’ during the weekend. Here is what I think.

Richard Mayhew lives in London. He works in a regular corporate job. He has a girlfriend who bosses him around. He spends his weekdays at work and his weekends with his girlfriend and other friends. One day when he is going for dinner with his girlfriend he sees a young woman jump out from inside a wall, which doesn’t have any opening, and fall down unconscious on the pavement. Richard tries to help her and ends up taking her to his apartment. The adventures start then. Richard discovers that this girl is from the shadow London which exists below the streets of London below the ground. There are strange people there, some good, some bad. There are all kinds of magic. There is even an angel. The girl whose name is Door is being chased by two villains who are trying to kill her. Door tells Richard that her family has been killed by the same villains and she wants to find who perpetrated this. Door and Richard go on a quest through shadow London to find the murderer. (I am summarizing here. The way it actually happens in the story is more complex and more interesting). They go through a series of adventures and meet interesting people along the way – Marquis de Carabas, Hunter, Lamia, Old Bailey, Mr.Croup, Mr.Vandemar, the angel Islington and many others. Whether Door is able to find the person who killed her family forms the rest of the story.

 

I always thought that Neil Gaiman books were dark. I was surprised to find that they were fast-paced and very humorous. ‘Neverwhere’ was a page-turner and I couldn’t put it down till I finished it. The humour in the book was wonderful and it made me laugh in many places. I also loved the literary and cultural references in the book. In one place at the end of a major adventure, the main characters are very tired and go to sleep. The next sentence reads ‘And then there were none’, in a clear reference to one of my favourite Christie novels. These references – literary, cultural, historical, scientific – add a lot to the enjoyment of the book. Another interesting thing about the story was that the shadow London is not very different from the real London – people there are as interesting, chaotic, complex, beautiful as real people. Towards the end of the story Richard has to decide whether he wants to be in shadow London or in real London and I was cheering for him to stay back in shadow London.

 

I did some research in Wikipedia to find out what are the other books that Gaiman has written so that I can read them. I discovered that though his comics output is huge, his novel output is slim. There was ‘Coraline’, ‘Stardust’, ‘American Gods’, ‘Anansi Boys’ and ‘The Graveyard Book’. And then there was his short story collection ‘Smokes and Mirrors’. And then a few odds and ends here and there. I thought that for someone who has been writing for more than twenty years, there would be a bigger bibliography. On the other hand, it is a good thing for new Gaiman readers like me. I can read all his books in a few weeks and wait for his next new one.

 

Have you read ‘Neverwhere’? What do you think about it?

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