|By Zach Patterson||Sunday, 2 Aug 2009|
Neverwhere is a novel by Neil Gaiman that’s been sitting on my “to read” pile for awhile now. Neverwhere follows the story of Richard Mayhew, an Scotman living in England, who leads a rather ordinary life with a woman he’s convinced himself he loves, in a job he’s accepted, and in an apartment he’s reasonably happy with. One night he finds a girl bloody and beaten on the streets and decides to help her (to the protests of his fiance). What Richard didn’t realize was that the girl he helped was part of an alternate world in London, and his assistance thrust him out of the normal world (London Above) and into her strange primitive world (London Below).
After the girl, whose name is Door, is healed and disappears from his care, Richard doesn’t realize he’s left his world at first, as nothing much looks different. However, when he finds out that none of his friends and coworkers can see him, and suddenly people are looking to rent out his apartment with him standing right in the middle of it, he determines he needs to find Door to discover why he’s suddenly stopped existing to the normal world. What follows is a story of Richard discovering that there is an alternate world beneath the streets of London where people that fall through the cracks of Society gather in some weird tribal fiefdoms. It’s a dirty world full of all kinds of social classes of people, intelligent rats, immortal mercenaries (the main villains Mr. Croup and Vandemar), floating marketplaces that appear in random places every night, characters that can resurrect themselves with special egg boxes, and life-sucking vampires. Without spoiling too much of the plot, Richard eventually finds Door, and he learns about her and the world below London, and how Door’s family was murdered, and she was lucky to escape alive with the help of Richard. Her father’s last suggestion is to find an angel named Islington, and from there the adventure begins.
I could go a little more in depth about the story, but for a novel review, I feel it’s kinda pointless. If you want to know more about the novel, read it or go look at Wikipedia. I’m sure what most people want to know is if this novel is worth reading. And in my opinion, it’s a decent novel that’s lacking in some finer detail I would like in a fantasy book such as this. Most everything bizarre and strange that happens in London Below is question by the main character, and the answer from most characters is silence or a shoulder shrug. How does this world exist in tandem with the real London (Above)? Why can the real world sometimes see you and sometimes not? How can a market just randomly appear anywhere and have all these people come to it? How many people are in this world? What’s this history of this place? There’s critical details like this missing, and the result is a very interesting world with rules that seem arbitrary, and occasionally whatever comes next seems to just be made up off the top of the writer’s head.
Another thing that bothered me in the book was the main character himself, Richard. Gaiman wrote him to perhaps be an everyman sort of character, but I found it really hard to relate to him in several instances simply because he was so clueless and cowardly. I can understand the disorientation of finding out a strange new world exists when you have lived your entire life normally, but his failure to adapt throughout the book is just frustrating. When people tell him to do something for his own safety, he often ignores it or mindlessly questions why he should do it. He gets beat up and threatened throughout the novel and rarely stands up for himself. And worst of all, all he ever seems to want is to go home. At times, it seems like he couldn’t care less for the people he’s found in London Below, all of this whole journey is about “him getting his” and getting the fuck back to the life he wasn’t even that happy with. He redeems himself at times, but on the whole, he wasn’t the most relatable or likable protagonist.
On the plus side, Gaiman really created an interesting world in Neverwhere. It’s a really neat idea, and I can’t help but feel that the movie Hellboy 2 took some inspiration from their marketplace and underworld from this movie, as the depiction in Hellboy 2 seems incredibly close to how I envisioned it in my head. But more than that, Gaiman created a lot of interesting supporting and secondary character. The villains, Croup and Vandemar, were delightfully evil and enjoyable to read through their sometimes nasty conversations. Door was perhaps the best character in the entire novel, as she was such a strong female character at the heart of the novel with the interesting power to open any door, no matter what. Additionally, the other characters like the Marquis, Hunter, Lamia, Bailey, and others really help to bring the world of London Below to life. The characterization of the supporting cast certainly helped alleviate the lingers thoughts I had about how this underword was created and why it existed and how it worked.
I think my opinion of the novel changed slightly when I read more about it and found out it was originally a BBC mini-series that Gaiman later turned into a novel and has subsequently revised (and it’s also been turned in a comic book series recently). I think in general the story told is quite interesting, fun, and gets to an epic finale, but without a doubt reads more like a graphic novel, movie, or TV series. The characters and places depicted cry out for visual representation, and while my mind works well enough to dream up these things, some of the missing detail I was craving likely could have been filled had this been a movie or comic. With that in mind, I’m interested in seeing how the original mini-series was in comparison, and then maybe checking out the comics, since they apparently take two very different styles to portray the same story. All the same, the novel itself is a pretty interesting modern fantasy with a great world and supporting cast, and it’s a relatively smooth reading, easy, inviting read. I’d recommend it.