This review was originally posted on Fantasy Faction in November 2012.
“Dear Diary, he began. On Friday I had a job, a fiancee, a home, and a life that made sense. (Well, as much as any life makes sense). Then I found an injured girl bleeding on the pavement and I tried to be Good Samaritan. Now I've got no fiancee, no home, no job, and I'm walking around a couple of hundred feet under the streets of London with the projected life expectancy of a suicidal fruit fly.”
Poor Richard. It was always going to get worse before it got better.
Most of you are probably familiar with Neverwhere and the works of Neil Gaiman. Many of you are probably thinking – why review an old Neil Gaiman novel? We all know how good it is. Well, until a few weeks ago, I’d never read anything by Neil Gaiman. Shocking, isn’t it?
For those that aren’t familiar with Neverwhere – it follows the story of Richard Mayhew. A man who moves to London from a little town in Scotland, gets a pretty decent job and gets engaged to a (pretty horrible) woman. Mostly, his life is about as ordinary as he could want it to be. But one evening, when walking to a particularly important dinner reservation with his fiancée, Richard stumbles across a fairly bedraggled girl in the street. Her name is Door, and she’s from a place called London Below. Y’see, all this time Richard’s been living in London Above, but he’s about to find out what happens to the people that slip between the cracks…
First off, Neil Gaiman’s prose is superb. It’s fast-paced, bizarre and extremely clever. He uses the nuances of language to create sentences which tell mini-stories of their own. Almost every sentence could be ripped out of this book and used as a quote – it’s that good. It feels like this book is a tribute to the entire city of London. Although most of the novel takes place in the fictional world of London Below, the descriptions of the places and the way in which the characters see everything makes you wonder if this isn’t just Gaiman’s way of describing the London he sees, every time he’s there.
“There was no moon but the night sky was a riot of crisp and glittering autumn stars. There were streetlights too and lights on buildings and on bridges which looked like earthbound stars and they glimmered repeated as they were reflected with the city in the night water of the Thames. It’s fairyland, thought Richard.”
The plot of Neverwhere is mostly fairly standard stuff, with a bit of a Gaiman twist. Richard is quite a typical protagonist – most likely to help make him a lense to the weirdness of London Below for the reader. But it’s the side characters in Neverwhere which make this book shine. Hunter and her dream to defeat the Monster of London; the Marquis de Carabas and his razor-sharp wit; and perhaps most memorable of all – the villains, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. These two will stick out in my mind for quite some time as one of the greatest double acts I’ve ever read.
“There are four simple ways for the observant to tell Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar apart: first, Mr. Vandemar is two and a half heads taller than Mr. Croup; second, Mr. Croup has eyes of a faded china blue, while Mr. Vandemar's eyes are brown; third, while Mr. Vandemar fashioned the rings he wears on his right hand out of the skulls of four ravens, Mr. Croup has no obvious jewelery; fourth, Mr. Croup likes words, while Mr. Vandemar is always hungry. Also, they look nothing at all alike.”
I’m so glad I decided to finally read Neverwhere. It’s at times: hilarious, touching and terrifying. A novel absolutely brimming with creativity and wonderful writing. The ending was perhaps a bit rushed when compared to the rest of the book, but at the same time, I think it is ultimately the right ending. Reading Neverwhere has spurred me on to read everything else I can by Neil Gaiman – so next up, Smoke and Mirrors.
And if you should decide to dive into London Below, just remember two things: Mind the Gap, and perhaps most importantly, Beware of Doors.