Author – Neil Gaiman
Pages: 400 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Release Date: January 25, 2005
There are a few authors that I save for special occasions. Travelling is one of those special occasions and Neil Gaiman is one of those authors. So when it came time to pack my bags and choose the novels that were coming with me Neverwhere was a no-brainer. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I loved American Gods and figured something in the same vein set in Europe could only be a good thing. What I got wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it was a bloody fun romp, nonetheless.
Neverwhere is more Stardust (Gaiman’s whimsical take on the classic Faerie Tale) than American Gods (Gaiman’s dark, menacing take on America, Media and Gods), which, in the end, I think was a good thing for the novel. Neverwhere starts off quick, and never looks back – leading the reader through a version of the London Underground that constantly keeps the reader on their toes with imagination. Half the fun with the novel comes from that anticipation about what Gaiman will throw at Richard Mayhew (and, by extension, the read) next. Wonderful visuals delight and the characters met along the way are just as charming and magical as the fantasy world.
In fact, Mayhew (the protagonist) may be the least interesting of all the characters to appear. It’s never explained really why he’s involved in the action taking place in the novel, beyond just pure chance, but through his pragmatic eyes the reader is introduced to so many other wonderful peopel that it is often easy to forget that Mayhew is also just along for the ride. Besides Mayhew’s purpose in the story, there’s a lot left unsaid and it’s clear that Gaiman wants the reader to make up their mind about many things that occur, especially those events that happen before the opening of the story and after the final page is turned. The set-up at the end of the novel seems ripe for a sequel and it’s curious that Gaiman hasn’t ever returned to the world.
Originally a six-part television series, Neverwhere‘s episodic nature shows through in the novel, with each lengthy chapter reading more or less like an episode of a television series – a style of storytelling I’m not particularily fond of, but can forgive in this case.
In many ways Neverwhere feels like part of a story, rather than the whole thing. The intentions of many of its characters are unclear – especially the vengeful antagonist (who wasn’t as shocking a surprise as Gaiman anticipated, I think) – and it feels like we only get a glimpse of their lives and their purposes. Hunter, an almost mythical bodyguard (missing for years) just suddenly appears, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe the circumstances that brought her back to London Below. Some clumsy foreshadowing and red herrings also point to the fact that Neverwhere was Gaiman’s first novel.
Even with the short comings, Neverwhere is a strong addition to Gaiman’s impressive collection. Rough around the edges, and not nearly as provoking as American Gods, Neverwhere managed to keep me happily entertained for a few train rides. Imagination oozing from the pages and Gaiman’s typically brilliant characters manage to shine through the thin layer of grime covering this first novel. Not his strongest… but hey, even a mediocre Gaiman novel is better than most of the other novels on the shelves.