Book review of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere
It can be tough reviewing a book that has been turned into a movie or tv series. Luckily, I’ve never seen the Neverwhere tv series, so this review isn’t influenced by images of characters painted on screen, rather than in my head. Neil Gaiman is possibly most well known for his work on The Sandman graphic novel series. Neverwhere is his first solo novel, although he co-authored a book in 1990 with fantasy author Terry Pratchett. I’m not actually sure which came first, the tv series or the novel for Neverwhere; they were both released at the same time in 1996. I haven’t read his Sandman comics, but I had high hopes coming into reading Neverwhere, based solely on the popularity of the comic series.
Neverwhere presents a wonderful world where the line between reality and a sort of subterranean alter-reality blur. The book’s main character, Richard Mayhew, works in an office, is engaged, and is basically an average guy. It is this premise that the novel toys with; the drudgery of living out a mundane life of 9 to 5 office work, starkly contrasted with a world where rats are supreme beings, a fantastic moving marketplace can be held at night in strange city locations, and the scenes shift from strange trains in the London underground to hobos making their abode on the rooftops of skyscrapers.
The cast of characters is as entertaining as it is eccentric. Richard and Door, the other main character, are constantly pursued by a pair of classic baddies: Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. They are protected by Hunter, a fierce female bodyguard, and are involved with The Angel Islington, an angel that in one scene serves them possibly the most potent wine in all creation. This is just the upper echelon of characters; there are plenty of well fleshed out supporting characters.
The characters in this alter-reality are not typically able to be seen by people living in the real world. They can get their attention if they try hard enough, but even when they accomplish this feat the people in the real world tend to forget they exist in a heartbeat; its like they don’t exist. There is a wonderful scene where Richard and Door attend an art gallery, as it is the entrance to the path that leads to The Angel Islington, and Richard’s finance is at the gallery, organizing an event for her company. The idea of individuals that exist in a world parallel to our reality, but seem to be just out of reach is painted vividly here.
Gaiman’s prose is like devilish poetry at times:
The carriage smelled like a morgue might at the end of a long, hot summer during the course of which the refrigeration equipment had failed for good.
and just plain hilarious at others:
Ruislip, the Fop’s opponent, resembled a bad dream one might have if one fell asleep watching Sumo wrestling with a Bob Marley record playing in the background. He was a huge Rastafarian who looked nothing so much as an obese and enormous baby.
Neverwhere is an original world, with a host of original characters and an extremely satisfying ending. Neil Gaiman’s ability to create a world that seems just out of reach is incredible, and he offers a bit of fantasy that just about anyone will identify with. This is a wonderful novel for fantasy fans; those with a healthy library of urban fantasy or those just tasting the genre for the first time.
You can pick up Neverwhere over at Amazon.com.