‘Young man’, he said, ‘understand this: there are two Londons. There’s London Above – that’s where you lived – and then there’s London Below – the Underside – inhabited by the people who fell through the cracks in the world. Now you’re one of them.’
Those bored with Neil Gaiman reviews look away now! Neverwhere is Gaiman’s novel based on the tv series written for the BBC in the mid-90s. But more than a simple tv tie-in, this is a fuller and deeper reworking, allowing Gaiman, as he reveals in his introduction, to fully explore ideas restricted by BBC time and budget. I’m not bored with Gaiman just yet, and I really enjoyed this novel. It creates an eerie yet fascinating underbelly to London, a flipside to the city that’s a dangerous tail to the comparitively safe head of the capital city we know. Into it slips Richard Mayhew, falling from his dull and uneventful office life and through the cracks deep into this world.
Gaiman manages to span the bridge between both his novels and stories for children and for adults. There’s the rich imagination always found in his shorter fiction coupled with his often somewhat darker side, although Neverwhere is much closer to the more mainstream Anansi Boys than say the ultimate darkfest that’s American Gods. As you would expect, the book is full of memorable characters. Take for example Mr Crump and Mr Valdemar, a double act of vicious killers who always claim their prey. Then there is the enchanting but equally dangerous Velvets, Goth-like temptresses who’ll literally suck the life out of you, and a wealth of enigmatic female characters including protector and protected Hunter and Door. In fact Gaiman succeeds in creating stronger females than males; whilst Crump and Valdemar are fun they are simply the stuff of nightmare – the girls are far more rounded and he’s content to get more mileage out of them.
Gaiman also creates vividly memorable situations; the shifting market in this mirror world, the gap (“mind the gap” comes the familiar warning at underground stations, although this is a gap that really bites), the king and his courtiers living on a tube carriage, a bridge where those who cross risk their lives and, in the best storytelling tradition, Mayhew’s own particular initiation through a deathly task that no-one has ever completed before…
So as I’ve said, I enjoyed it very much, and probably the only thing that irked me was Gaiman’s insistence on pleasing an international audience, so London’s inhabitants shop in stores and he feels compelled to explain the most obvious of London’s landmarks, for example Oxford Street. But I forgive him, and I also admire him for not falling into the sequel trap, where lesser authors would have easily wallowed in an entire Neverwhere series.