Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Being a new fan of Neil Gaiman’s work after reading Good Omens, I bought a number of his other books, Neverwhere being one of them. This is the American (not British) version, with some bonus content at the end.
Read: August 28 – September 1, 2023
Book contains: violence, off-screen death, non-graphic torture
Really Clever and Witty
One simple act of kindness turns Richard Mayhew’s existence entirely on its head. He’s lost not only his engagement, but his job, his home, his life. It’s like he doesn’t exist at all! He’s fallen through the cracks, and must venture forth through London Below in hopes of finding a way to go back to his old life.
I’d heard a little about this book when I took Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass, but I really didn’t know what to think. It began right away with some action as well as some exposition as it introduced both main characters, Richard and Door, one of which was running for her life, and the other whose story had just begun.
I found one person doing a read-along on Youtube, aptly named Neverwhere Readalong, though he only got through 5 chapters, and since it was done three years ago, I figured he wasn’t doing the rest of it. I read the second half of the book on my own, which took quite a bit longer and wasn’t as fun. I still enjoyed it.
Gaiman used third person for this book, past tense, to follow his characters as they move around within the world. The narrative did a lot of flipping back and forth between characters, as mentioned, and I believe that this is because the story was originally adapted as a TV show by the BBC, and Gaiman wrote it as a novel after the fact. It’s very much a novel now, as Gaiman is skilled at writing prose and screenplay, but a little bit of that style carried over.
The main character, Richard, is that everyman sort of character. He’s pretty average, and he’s thrown into a more-than-average world, and the growth he experiences is wondrous. A simple act of kindness is what gets him into this mess, but it’s also what defines him. When anyone else would’ve just walked past or expected someone else to help, he did what he thought was right, regardless of the personal consequences. Of course, the rest of his journey is him following what he thinks he wants, rather than what he needs, but by the end, when he’s achieved his goal, he realizes it. He sacrifices what is easy for what will make him truly happy, and I admire his character all the more for it.
There are quite a few different kinds of relationships in this book: friendships, partnerships, betrayals, quid pro quos. One mystery includes such a betrayal, and so many of the characters were suspects, but the actual culprit was someone so far off my radar that I was taken by surprise. I’m usually good at picking up the subtle hints that authors leave for their readers in a mystery, but Gaiman always does so well with tugging the reader around, giving them reason to think one thing or another, before pulling the rug out from under their feet. It’s a skill.
As always, Gaiman has a unique sense of humour and wit, and some parts even made me laugh out loud. He has a way of writing that inserts humour into tense moments, and seriousness into funny moments. He actually went into detail about his methods during the Masterclass, explaining how everything down to his word choice is carefully considered. I like his writing because it lets me take a deep dive into his brain, seeing how he thinks from the way he writes, and everything always has three or four layers.
While there were times that the story itself wasn’t as interesting to me, simply because I have very little in common with the characters, I still enjoyed this book. I see myself reading it again in the future, just not anytime soon. I recommend it to readers who love London, as a lot of knowledge and history of the city goes into it. This book is also good for adult readers who enjoy a good urban quest.