A decade ago I read Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. For the first – and, I increasingly suspect, only – time in my life, when I reached the last page I turned back to the first one and started rereading it immediately. I loved the characters, the setting, the adventure, the sense of history intertwined with myth. I loved something woven through it all but it took me ten years to figure out what that something was.
When the novel opens, our everyman hero Richard Mayhew has a day-to-day job, a fiancee, and an ordinary life. He ends up making a series of decisions that sweep him into dangerous circumstances. He’s a decent guy trying to do the right thing, but at first he doesn’t really have any idea what he’s doing. By the end of novel, Richard is a decent guy, doing the right thing without any doubts. The difference between him at the beginning and the end is that he’s confident. And when I read it for the first time ten years ago, confidence was the thing I wanted the most.
I’ve spent all the intervening years wondering how I could write a book just that good only to realize that the magic in those pages was recognizing a thing I wished for. That isn’t to say it’s not a brilliant book but I’m a little dismayed to finally understand that sometimes the best part of a story has more to do with reader perspective than author intent.