I have frequently found myself saying, to myself or to somebody else or to nobody in particular, that Neil Gaiman is an absolute genius. Every single time that I have come in contact with any of his work I have been fascinated from start to finish and Neverwhere did not break that mould. This book puts Gaiman’s excellent skill on a pedestal, and everything about it amazed me.
Neverwhere is a story about an ordinary man, Richard Mayhew, being thrown into a whole new world below the streets of London. It starts when he stumbles upon an injured young girl by the name of Door, and decides to help her. However, as a result of this small act of kindness, he is almost completely erased from his world. He follows Door, who is on a mission to discover who killed her family and why, into the world of London Below. Travelling with them are the cunning Marquis de Carabas and the legendary warrior and Door’s bodyguard Hunter. Along this journey, we meet plenty of interesting characters, and watch as the group help Door on her mission while trying to stay away from the clutches of the assassins Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar.
From reading that summary above, you can probably see the complexity of the story in Neverwhere. It was jam-packed with action and mystery and it seemed as if every page brought either a new question or a huge plot-twist. Nothing was solved until right at the end, and I suspected most of the characters of being behind the murders of Door’s family and being the true villains of the story. Further, I was generally worried for all of the character’s safety at some point – minus the villains, who Neil Gaiman did a fabulous job at making me hate. I never once felt bored reading this book, and never considered skim-reading a page or skipping ahead. In fact, I was more disciplined a reader than normal, and resisted the urge to peek ahead a few pages or steal a glance at the final page to see what happened.
I found Richard Mayhew to be a great protagonist for this novel and loved seeing the world of London Below through his eyes. I felt like his thoughts were exactly what my thoughts would have been in such a situation, and such a relatable protagonist makes the story that much easier to really delve into. Above all however, I loved that Richard spent the whole book dreaming of returning to his life in London Above, but then you begin to doubt whether he could go back to his normal life again as the book goes on, and then get to see whether he can crack it. The characters of London Below were fun on an entirely different level, as they were all captivating from the start, particularly the Marquis de Carabas. He was made all the more interesting when I couldn’t figure out whether he was good or not. However, even though the story pretty much centred around Door’s journey, I feel like we didn’t get to see much of her or understand her, although I loved that at the end we saw how intelligent she is as she saves the day. Nevertheless, despite the characters all being great fun to read, I feel as if the real story is a story of London Below, and I was enraptured more by the characteristics of this strange and dangerous world and the struggles it inflicted on the characters rather than the actual characteristics of the characters. For instance, I usually love reading into characters’ relationships, but I don’t feel like they took centre stage at all in this novel.
I am completely enamoured with the world that Neil Gaiman has created in Neverwhere. Perhaps, being a proud Londoner, this may have enhanced by intrigue, but I am sure that it would be equally fascinating for anyone in any part of the world – especially as Gaiman mentions similar imaginary worlds in other cities of the world. I loved imagining a whole elaborate city under my feet, where people travelled through time and space, where there are huge markets held in Harrods at night and where there were larger than life people named after places that I had visited – or are the places named after them? I found all of the puns entertaining; one of my favourites being the Black Friars and Earl’s Court being an actual royal court on an underground train. It goes without saying that I now dream of returning to the world of London Below.
Overall Neverwhere was a truly engrossing and fascinating read. I am quite surprised, with hindsight, that I enjoyed it as much as I did, as it is not as much of a character-driven book as usual; the protagonist is passive for the most of the story. I would have liked it if the characters had been explored a little more, but the world of London Below made up for the characters who, perhaps in a less well-written book, would have dragged a story back. Did this story change my opinion of Neil Gaiman? No – he is still a genius in my eyes.