Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere (review)

What would you do if you came walking down a street and saw a young woman lying hurt on the sidewalk? Would you stop to help her and carry her to your home if she asked you not to call an ambulance? If you said yes to this question, I’m sorry to say that your answer is wrong! Really really wrong! At least if you have a life and maybe a family you care about.

Because that is exactly what Richard Mayhew does. He finds a hurt woman, he takes her to his home to help her – and because of this random act of kindness, he’s thrown into a life and an existence he had no idea existed even though it was right beneath his feet.

The girl he helped, was Door. Door comes from the London Below and if you associate too much with people and places from London Below, your existence in London Above disappears. People stop seeing you, you loose your job and your apartment – you’re simply forgotten. And that’s what happens to Richard. He helps Door escape from the very nasty Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar and he takes a message from her to the Marquis de Carabas – and that’s it. Suddenly, he’s shunned in London Above and he has no choice but to go to London Below – like all the other things and people who have fallen through the cracks.

Once Richard is below, he’s dragged into Door’s life. And she does not lead a peaceful one. Instead she’s on the run from the people who slaughtered her entire family and trying to figure out why they did so. Various characters help and hinder this quest and it’s all good fun and gives the reader a lovely, entertaining time. And the rats, of course. And pigeons.

Besides a fascinating story that I really enjoyed, what I loved most about Neverwhere was the way, Gaiman uses London. Place names of various parts of London suddenly get a new – and often sinister – meaning when you know London Below. Names and phrases like Mind the Gap, Shepherd’s Bush and Knightsbridge are some of the things that get the Gaiman treatment. And of course the floating markets – people from London Below just meet up in places and have their markets and then pack it all down again and move on to a new location. One such location is Harrod’s and the description of this is just marvelous. London Above – and Below – will never be the same. It all reminds me of an Escher painting.

And I just love Gaiman’s writing. Here are a couple of quotes to showcase it: ‘To say that Richard was not very good at heights would be accurate, but would fail to give the whole picture. It would be like describing the planet Jupiter as bigger than a duck. True, as far as it went; but it could go further.’ (p. 43) and ‘He never had believed in angels. He was damned if he was going to start now. Still, it is much easier not to believe in something when it is not actually looking directly at you, and saying your name.’ (p. 154).

One of my favorite authors is Terry Pratchett. And another author who is rather new to me and who I’m really starting to like, is China Miéville. This book by Neil Gaiman reminds me of both these authors. There’s a lot of similarities between Neverwhere and Miéville’s UnLunDun and The City & The City. Both Neverwhere and UnLunDun takes place in London but in a different London than we know. And just as people don’t see the people from London Below in Neverwhere, people don’t see the other city and it’s inhabitants in The City & The City. There’s something so interesting to me about these co-existing cities and how they exemplify how we live our lives, not seeing what we’re not supposed to see and if you see something that other’s don’t, you’re automatically labelled insane. It could be really interesting to read all these three novels together to really compare them and dig into their themes and similarities – and their unique aspects as well.

The similarities with Terry Pratchett is clearly seen in the humor. There are sentences here where it could almost have been Pratchett writing. No wonder that Pratchett and Gaiman wrote a book together – but big wonder that I didn’t particularly like it … I think I need to reread Good Omens at one point.

One other thing that fascinates me about this book is, that it originally was a tv series and then Gaiman adapted it into a novel. Right now, so many books are made into movies – Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi, Les Misérables, The Hobbit, Midnight’s Children – but it’s rarely the other way around, I think. I really want to watch this series (and all those movies…!). But I wonder – I prefer reading the book before the movie … but if the book is based on the tv series, should you read the book first or watch the series???

Anyway, I digress. What I really wanted to say with this review is, that Neil Gaiman is living up to my expectations and that he has taken a big step closer to be added to my small list of favorite authors and that I loved reading this book.

  • Title: Neverwhere
  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Publisher: BBC Books
  • Year: 1996
  • Pages: 287 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

If you liked this novel, you might also like Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, anything by Terry Pratchett or The City & The City and Un Lun Dun by China Miéville.

8 thoughts on “Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere (review)

  1. I’ve seen the Neverwhere TV series, and to be honest, while it’s a wonderful story it does suffer from being a BBC production from the 80s. The BBC has actually just produced a Neverwhere radio play with a fantastic cast–maybe you heard about it?

    • Yes, I heard. I saw Gaiman post about it on Twitter. With Anthony Steward Head, Benedict Cumberbatch and more. It’s supposed to become available worldwide at some point. Not sure when.

  2. Neverwhere was my first Gaiman, and it was love at first read. not sure if Neverwhere is his best work, but it got me on the path of reading more Gaiman, which led to Pratchett, and all sorts of other wonderful things.

    Mieville’s Un Lun Dun is excellent as well!

    • Yes, Gaiman, Pratchett and Miéville. You can’t go wrong with these three, I think. I haven’t read nearly enough Miéville – or Gaiman for that matter so I’m hoping to remedy that soon.

  3. I have mixed feelings about this one–I really loved some parts, and was really annoyed by others. I liked it overall, though. I think my favorite Gaiman book so far is American Gods.

    • I’m so looking forward to reading American Gods. I actually began reading it once and then just stopped and never picked it up … gasp! But I’m so looking forward to it. I keep hearing wonderful things about it.

  4. Great review! I love the comparison to an Escher painting, spot on. This was the first book I ever reviewed on my blog (and my first Gaiman novel as well), so it has fond memories for me. 🙂

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