There’s a reputation growing around Neil Gaiman as one of the greatest storytellers of our generation. With worldwide hits like Stardust, American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, it has to be said that his first solo novel is a firm fan favourite. Mine too.
Neverwhere started life as a BBC original series, penned by Gaiman and Lenny Henry. Although I haven’t seen this series, from what I gathered in the Author’s note in the book, Gaiman was dissatisfied with the time restraints and inevitable cuts and changes that were made to the script, and resolved to pen the ‘preferred text’ – the book that was eventually published.
I first read this in 2012 when it was lent to me by someone I used to work with. I wasn’t keen on the sound of it (It’s not the type of book I automatically go for), but I started it and completed it the same day – I enjoyed it THAT much.
It centers around Richard Mayhew; an ordinary guy who moved from Scotland to London, building a successful life there as an investment analyst and fiance to the beautiful yet bossy Jessica. Then one day, a chance encounter with a bleeding girl unleashes a sequence of events that ends up with him slipping ‘between the cracks’ of London and plunging into the twisted and unsettling world of London Below.
What I loved about this novel was the obvious Alice in Wonderland qualities, but with Gaiman’s dark and twisted sense of humour. The best characters in the novel are arguably the villains, Croup and Vandermar; I loved how visual the story was, with Gaiman truly excelling himself with the creation of this pair. They really are a caricatured version of stereotypical villains; Mr Croup’s elegant manners offsetting Mr Vandemar’s cartoonish thuggishness makes them both vivid and hilarious. As vicious killers you would expect to hate them, but despite their career choices you can’t help but laugh out loud at their bizarre way of doing things. There’s enough wit amongst their dark conversations to balance out the grotesque, and it keeps going at a pace that makes it hard to put this book down.
In fact, so many of the descriptions of London Below’s location and occupants was remarkably vivid, and I absolutely love the affectionate mocking of London’s best known locations: meeting the Earl at Earl’s Court, having tea with the Black Friars at Blackfriars, getting drunk with the Angel at Islington, and crossing Night’s Bridge at … you guessed it … Knightsbridge. The floating market in Harrods is my personal favourite, and I just love the Barter system they’ve got in place: you can buy anything you like by trading for it with everyday objects: pens, hankies… you get the picture.
I just find this book so unbelievably clever in the way that London, one of the most recognizable cities in the world has been turned into a dark fairy-tale land. There is so much slapstick here, but there are haunting parallels between London Above and London Below in our normal life; the way that people can fall ‘between the cracks’ in society and are treated as expendable with no-one to look out for them once they vanish.
I know that Gaiman is working on a sequel entitled The Seven Sisters, so I am thrilled that the world of Neverwhere is destined to expand; with a series so rich, it would be a shame to let it slip away…