Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of people who have fallen between the cracks.
Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.
As I mentioned in my review of The Graveyard Book I picked up both a copy of it and of Neverwhere on Portobello Road Market. This was to solve the gap in my reading that was called Neil Gaiman. After falling in love with Bod and The Graveyard Book, I decided to read Neverwhere during a few days at home due to illness, just to cheer myself up. And cheer me up it most definitely did. I thought it was brilliant! I really loved this story, as it’s a modern fairytale and I adored the setting.
Unlike Un Lun Dun – comparisons are unavoidable as I read these two so closely together – Neverwhere is recognisably tied to London’s true Underground, if only by the names of places visited, where UnLondon’s similarities are more tied to the above-ground London. Having just visited London last June, I had fun spotting the different stations and figuring out whether we’d gotten on or off the trains there. I liked that the names didn’t just refer to places, but people too. Earl’s Court, for example, has a true Earl and Blackfriars was inhabited by monks.
The protagonists of the book, Richard and Door, were fun characters. Richard is your regular working class guy, stuck in his job, engaged to a woman who doesn’t actually treat him very well and all in all, he doesn’t seem to be very happy in his life. Despite this he has the courage, or perhaps the decency is a better word, to help the young girl that suddenly appears on the pavement before him and his fiancée when they are on the way to an important dinner, ignoring the dire threats his fiancée throws at him if he doesn’t leave the girl be and comes along. And suddenly Richard turns out not to be as regular and boring as he always thought. It’s the beginning of a magical journey of self-discovery for Richard and I liked how he discovers that his ‘old’ life isn’t enough for him any more after he’s discovered his courage in Neverwhere. Door on the other hand knows her courage and her place and thus is a perfect foil for Richard. She’s feisty and knows what she wants and how to get it and at times she can be ruthless in getting what she needs. The one thing I found a little disconcerting in the two’s relationship was the romantic overtone between them, as Door is supposedly a teen and Richard an adult.
The secondary characters in the novel are fantastic. Most of them were somewhat sinister, even if they were on our heroes’ team. The Marquis De Carabas and The Earl, the Black Friars, they all behaved a little off at times. The only characters which I never doubted were, Old Bailey and Anaesthesia, they alone seem Richard’s unconditional allies. Jessica was a wonderful creation in her atrocity, she embodies all the bad characteristics women can have in a relationship, from being domineering, to deciding she’ll fix Richard and help him become as ambitious as she is and she thinks he ought to be. She set my teeth on edge every time she hit the page. Messires Croup and Vandemar are truly creepy! They are the evil sidekicks from hell and they were very freaky and gruesome. These two and Jessica show how well Gaiman can write a villain, because they were some of the better villains I’ve ever read.
With an intricate plot, containing a couple of twists I hadn’t seen coming at all, Neverwhere was totally enjoyable, a perfect read for a day spent in bed, and comes highly recommended. After The Graveyard Book, Neverwhere has reaffirmed Mr Gaiman’s superstar status for me and I will definitely be searching out his other novels. If you haven’t read any Gaiman, you really should because his works will be the classics of the future!