Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Posted on February 4th, 2014
Neverwhere by Neil GaimanNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Published by Review in 2003
Pages: 370
Location: England, London
Buy from Amazon USA
Buy from Amazon UK
Goodreads
five-stars
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 the 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.

*** Editorial comment: it's not actually his native city because he's a recently arrived Scot, but anyway. Oh and btw there are a number of versions of this book which is a bit frustrating ***

Verdict: totally deserves its five stars. I will definitely be reading it again.

 Read it if you love London. Read it you love a good fantasy book.

So, now I’m going to have to tell you what’s good about it. Hmmm… the strange thing is that it has quite a lot in common with American Gods which I really didn’t care for much. Somehow, I’m going to have to try to explain why I liked this one better.

First of all, the London of Neverwhere is a much more interesting place than the America of American Gods (sorry America). It’s a mix of everything that’s ‘left-over’ from London: history, legends, auras attached to names, disused tunnels and hidden spaces, abandoned buildings and people who ‘slip through the cracks’. And it’s all kind of integrated and… thriving… and more alive but less self-conscious than the mythological underworld of American Gods.

Like the central character, I wanted to be there, and now I want to go back.

Then, the thing that really put me off American Gods is that I didn’t click with the central character… or any of the characters really. Neverwhere is different. The central character, Richard Mayhew has some of Shadow’s ‘I barely exist, take no notice of me’ qualities but to a much lesser extent. It might be going too far to say he has a spine, but he seems to have prospects of developing one. But the secondary characters… oh my!!

Old Bailey and the Marquis de Carabas

I liked Door. I liked Old Bailey (left). Hunter was meh, ok. I even liked Islington and the nefarious Croup and Vandemar as characters (seen them before somewhere, in Terry Pratchett’s The Truth. I wonder who borrowed from who?) But most of all I liked de Carabas (right). Now there is a guy who radiates a personality big enough to fill a whole book. And makes a huge, incredible, massive personal sacrifice on behalf of the plot which I hope, as the years wear on, will start to feel like a growth experience to him, because I’m not absolutely convinced it really changed that much of what happened!??

Anyway, just read Neverwhere! It’s very good.

I nearly forgot, it has the other advantage of being quite a bit shorter than American Gods and loses nothing by it. I must be off my rocker saying this about an established author but I feel Neil Gaiman can sometimes verge on the self-indulgent as a writer. There are times when he freely admits his editor told him to take something out but he stuffed it back in because he wanted to, and the thing is, it turns out the editor was right. He had a few ‘moments’ in Neverwhere but nowhere near so many.

 Neverwhere bbcNeverwhere BBC – this is one of those rare occasions where the tv series preceded the book. Gaiman and Lenny Henry made it for tv first, in 1996. You can get the dvd (Amazon USA, Amazon UK). Radio 4 also did a version of Neverwhere this Christmas. I don’t think you can listen to it any more, but their site has a bunch of interesting snippets, interviews and a slideshow of relevant London photos.

And now for a bit of controversy!

I know this isn’t exactly breaking news, it’s from a few months ago, October 2013, but I was astonished to learn Neverwhere had been banned (temporarily) from a school in New Mexico. I tried to remember everything I’d just read… there was no sex… I was sure at one point they were going to torture this guy to death and I’m really squeamish… well they did, but off stage, thank goodness. Plus, … oh wait, I was about to make a spoiler! I mean, The Hunger Games is less clean than this… Harry Potter is much less…

I must have somehow missed a page of smut!!! That would be terrible. The parent who complained wasn’t exactly helpful. She said “I cannot read this to you and put it on the news. It’s too inappropriate. It’s that bad.” Desperately, I trawled the internet looking for this piece of inappropriate literature which had obviously been expurgated from my Kindle version. Eventually, I discovered the complainant was referring to this inoffensive passage:

sexywhereNo sex, even, but according to Leah Schnelbach, who, like me, is trying to understand, “Their intentions are quite clear.” Well yeah….  OH–Kay. Also they used the word ‘fuck’ outside of holy matrimony. But come on… When I walk down the street with my daughter EVERYONE can tell what I’ve been up to!! Only I was a lot more dignified about it… No, really… And that complainant, she’s been at it too! Or she wouldn’t have a daughter to over-protect, would she, now?

Ah well… getting banned is so cool, it would be a shame to forget it ever happened. Right about the time this happened, Neil was making a speech on behalf of The Reading Agency, which ties in quite well with something I wanted to write about tomorrow, so I was pleased to stumble on it.

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