Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman


AuthorNeil Gaiman

Pages: 400 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Release Date: January 25, 2005
ISBN-10: 0060557818
ISBN-13: 978-0060557812

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.

  • edifanob October 12, 2008 at 10:03 am

    I like your review.
    last book I read with setting of London Underground:
    UN LUN DON by China Mieville

  • GFS3 October 13, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    I loved “American Gods” as well. But it was the darkness that sold me. So I’m not sure I’ll rush out to pick this one up based on your review — although I will say Gaiman is definitely better than most.

  • Daya October 15, 2008 at 7:17 am

    I really loved Neverwhere. I know what you mean about some of the foreshadowing and red herrings, but nonetheless it is one of my favorite! Croup and Vandemar are a great pair of villains, and I’m reminded of them as I read about “the man Jack” in the Graveyard Book.

  • Chris (The Book Swede) October 24, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    I love Neverwhere :) Croup and Vandemar are the funniest villains I’ve ever come across. I wasn’t that keen on the book the first time I read it, but I keep re-reading it and it gets better and better. Still haven’t finished American Gods! That’s my aim for this week. I’m restarting it.

  • Tom November 1, 2008 at 9:49 am

    I too love Neverwhere. Have to say though, the original BBC tv series was more entertaining than the novelisation.

  • Kevin December 19, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Gaiman is an overrated hack. He churns out crappy novels that are undeveloped and dull. Neverwhere is another loser with a juvenile insights and a derivative plot. I’m done wasting my money on Gaiman.

  • aidan December 19, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    I’ll politely disagree, Kevin.