Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I was totally mystified, baffled and downright confused when I hit up Wikipedia to find that Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, a book that I had just finished and thoroughly enjoyed, was nothing more than an adaptation of a television series. That might sound like I have a measure of distaste for adaptations, and you would be right. But since I didn’t know that at the time, it doesn’t count, and thus I will attempt for this review (and, in reality, everywhere else too), attempt to ignore the fact this book did not start life out as a book.

Devised by Nail Gaiman and Lenny Henry, and directed by Dewi Humphreys, there were six episodes, each at 30 minutes, airing originally on BBC Two in 1996. I haven’t seen the TV show, and I’m not as vehemently against it as you might think, but I like my books and my TV to remain separate (except when it comes to Star Wars and Star Trek… shut up!).

Neverwhere tells the story of one Richard Mayhew, a Scottish boy, living in London, and currently very much stuck in the rut of life. He has a fiancée, Jessica, a job that he is content in (as much as one can be content in an office job), and friends. However all of this is turned up on its ear when an injured girl mysteriously appears out of a solid brick wall. Being the fine gentleman that he is – and probably controlled by a bit of fate as well – Richard Mayhew leaves Jessica as he attends to the injured girl.

He pointed to the sidewalk. The person was face down, and enveloped in bulky clothes; Jessica took his arm and tugged him toward her. “Oh. I see. If you pay them any attention, Richard, They’ll walk all over you. They all have homes, really. Once she’s slept it off, I’m sure she’ll be fine.” She? Richard looked down. It was a girl. Jessica continued, “Now I’ve told Mister Stockton that we…” Richard was down on one knee. “Richard? What are you doing?”

From: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

From this point on, Richard’s life is irrevocably changed, for the better or worse, we will have to wait and see. In the meantime, totally unnoticed by everyone he once knew, seemingly having to faded out of existence, Richard finds himself in London Below.

If you are a fan of trains, history, or London, then this book is definitely for you. Gaiman once again, just like he did in American Gods, shows an uncanny research ability, matched with his inimitable writing style. We are soon introduced to a mass of underground railway stations, and a group of people that, unbeknownst to London Above, are living rather content lives beneath their feet.

Richard finally tracks down the girl he rescued (he had let her go, you see, before everything went pear-shaped), Door, at a Floating Market, which is naturally taking place at Harrods. Along with the Marquis de Carabas, and bodyguard Hunter, they begin a journey throughout London Below to find out why Door’s parents were murdered. Continually hounded by those that did the murdering, Richard slowly finds himself becoming, himself, if you can say that, as he loses the ties that ground him to London Above.

Neverwhere is a frighteningly funny book at times, but never in an overt sense. There is no need to write a comedy book, when the protagonists in a book are willing to make jokes themselves. In this, Gaiman has learned from Terry Pratchett, who never relies upon a stand-up routine to make people laugh. Nevertheless, this book is more often than not a book based in a dark reality, one that is rewarding, yes, but tough to live in and fraught with danger.

The woman looked at him, almost pityingly; and Richard realized that there was nobody holding his hand. “Anesthesia?”
From the darkness at the crown of the bridge came a gentle noise, like a rustle or a sign. A handful of irregular quartz beads pattered down the curve of the bridge toward them. Richard picked one up. It was from the rat-girls necklace. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Then he found his voice. “We’d better. We have to go back. She’s…”
The woman raised her flashlight, shone it across the bridge. Richard could see all the way across the bridge. It was deserted. “Where is she?” he asked.
“Gone,” said the woman, flatly. “The darkness took her.”

From: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

By the end of the book you have run the full gamut of emotions in dealing with Richard. You are a little frustrated with him at first, but then you see inside he has a courage which eventually shines out and your cheering for him. However he goes and screws it all up just before the end. However, in a rare moment of giving the reader just what they want, Gaiman allows Richard one more chance at redemption, which he takes with both hands.

A bit of mythology, a bit of fantasy, a bit of urban drama and a whole lot of London makes this book a definite must read. As I’ve clearly mentioned, you don’t need the TV show to enjoy this book; it stands well enough on its own. Gaiman has you coming back for more and more, which is good, considering that he has suggested that there might be a sequel in the future.

You’ll fall in love with Door, finally understand the Marquis, and you’ll definitely stand alongside Richard in Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman. A funny, at times sad, always witty and always interesting story, it gets 7 out of 10.

9/10 A funny, at times sad, always witty and always interesting story.

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