Road to Neverwhere

Thursday November 6, 2008 in books read 2008 | neil gaiman

‘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.

Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere

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.

This is my favourite Gaiman book.

And I agree about the sequel bit!

gautami tripathy    Saturday November 8, 2008   

I loved this book also. I thought his prose beautiful, his imagination fantastic, and the humor in all the darkness was just the right touch.

Framed    Sunday November 9, 2008   

I was going to give Gaiman a rest for a while, although your comments have inspired me to read some more!

The Book Tower    Tuesday November 11, 2008   

I took this with me to London, and liked reading it while riding the tube around and recognizing all the station names. While Gaiman didn’t do sequels to it, it has had multiple iterations, some of them better than others. Original BBC version, prose novel version, comic-book series version, and at one point at least there was talk of a movie, with higher production values than the pretty rudimentary BBC series.

Girl Detective    Wednesday November 12, 2008   

If this was your introduction to London then it was a great one!

I did hear of the film version, and according to the IMDb it’s slated for release next year – although they give no indication of who’s making it.

The Book Tower    Wednesday November 12, 2008   

I think I’m in the minority here, but I wasn’t that impressed by Gaiman’s Neverwhere (ducks for cover).

One thing I found challenging (ironically) was the simplicity of the text: this is not adult fiction, rather it is adolescent fiction. The language is simply too simplistic, tepidly too tepid, and, well, just kind of weak. For an underworld that is set in the sewers under a major city, there is no detail, no texture, and frankly, no stink. There is nothing in the language to suggest that lurking beneath a city is visceral, smelly, and dark.

Another point of challenge for me: the protagonist’s former, pre-underground life is outrageously unbelievable: flat, vague, and descriptionless (and not even done so for irony’s sake either). He is not a convincing character at all since he has nothing at risk, no flesh and bone to his sketch.

Please do not misunderstand me — I really, really do want to like Neverwhere and Gaiman’s vision, but for a “fantasy” novel, this is a somewhat dull and lackluster juvenile fiction without any of the imagination and spark of youth.

solargun    Sunday November 16, 2008   

Okay. I disagree in that I did find the alternative world sketched out very well. I agree though in that Gaiman can’t do “ordinary” in a particularly inspired way, and the ordinary world in this is similarly cliched to the one depicted in Anansi Boys. But if Gaiman can’t do ordinary particularly convincingly, he is good at blurring the edges between the commonplace and fantastic. Perhaps he does this best in American Gods. He does it too in The Graveyard Book.

The Book Tower    Sunday November 16, 2008   

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