Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
“Richard was sitting in the dark, on a ledge, on the side of a storm drain, wondering what to do, wondering how much further out of his depth he could possibly get. His life so far, he decided, had prepared him perfectly for a job in securities, for shopping at the supermarket, for watching football on the telly on the weekends, for turning on a heater if he got cold. It had magnificently failed to prepare him for a life as an un-person on the roofs and in the sewers of London, for a life in the cold and the wet and the dark.”
This is my first time reading a Neil Gaiman book and all I can say is . . . WHAT IS MY PROBLEM? WHY HAVE I WAITED SO LONG?
When I was first deciding whether or not to read this book, I stumbled across a review for Neverwhere that correctly pointed out that Neil Gaiman “really understands fantasy.” Seriously, I cannot stress how accurate that is. Not only does Neil Gaiman understand fantasy, but Neverwhere is the quintessential, classic fantasy novel along the lines of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time. A bumbling, reluctant hero from the “regular world” is thrown into another world where magic and wonder reign. If that isn’t what fantasy is all about–discovery of wonders beyond our wildest imagination–then I don’t know what is.
Gaiman skillfully weaves a tale of ordinary, skitish Londoner Richard Mayhew as he is dragged into London Below, a world of Alice in Wonderland-esque nightmare. When a girl named Door turns up bleeding on the street, Richard soon learns that everything he thought he knew about London was . . . not wrong precisely, but that it wasn’t the entire story. The world of London Below is teeming with the impossible–vampires in suits, Earls in the Underground, sewer dwellers who answer to rats, fallen angels and magical markets and creatures straight out of fairy tales. A vast and brutal kingdom lies beneath the unsuspecting people of London Above and Richard wants nothing more than to be able to return to the life he knew before. But as Richard becomes more embroiled in Door’s plight to discover who murdered her family, the question becomes not can he return to London Above, but does he truly want to?
I was delighted by this book. It is a masterful mixture of wordplay, horror, wonder, and the driest, most dead-pan humor imaginable. Gaiman is an expert wordsmith, often taking well known colloquialisms and turning them on their heads. His villains–particularly Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar–were a disturbing mix of viciousness and humor in a way that made them all the more horrific. London Below is unlike any fantasy world I have encountered. It is dark, unforgiving, yet still manages to make me long to experience it. I loved the way Gaiman used well-known spaces in London and turned them into something strange and wonderful. London has a vast, untapped history, and Gaiman drew on that marvelously, weaving myth and time into the grand mysteries of London Below.
There are little bubbles of old time in London, where things and places stay the same, like bubbles in amber,” [Door] explained. “There’s a lot of time in London, and it has to go somewhere–it doesn’t all get used up at once.”
“I may still be hungover,” sighed Richard. “That almost made sense.”
As I’ve mentioned countless times, fantasy speaks to a part of us that longs for things beyond this world–places where magic is tangible and ordinary people can become heroes. To me, Neverwhere captured the essence of the fantasy genre, and I found myself completely caught up in Richard’s journey through a new, though terrifying world, and the excitement and wonder that magic could exist.
I do not give out high ratings lightly, but Neil Gaiman, I must say that the hype surrounding your name is worth it. You have certainly gained a new fan.