If you don’t already know the name Neil Gaiman, you will very soon. Later this year, the executive producers behind Gotham and Hannibal will launch American Gods, the serial adaptation of Gaiman’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel. Soon after, New Line will release a film based on his brilliant Sandman graphic novels.
To celebrate these exciting productions, I decided to look back at Gaiman’s first solo novel, Neverwhere.
The companion novel to his 1996 TV series, Neverwhere is the story of Richard Mayhew, a hopeless Scot living an unhappy life in central London. While on a date with his fiancée, he rescues a girl named Door, who appears, seemingly, out of the wall, covered in blood and barely conscious.
The incident destroys Richard’s life…literally. When he goes to work, he finds he no longer has a job. His fiancée doesn’t recognise him, and his apartment’s being sold. Richard no longer has a place in the only reality he knows. Instead, he is cast down to ‘London Below’, a dark, dangerous world of magic. There, he joins Door in her quest to discover her family’s killers, hoping that the journey will end with him able to return to his normal life.
“You’ve a good heart. Sometimes that’s enough to see you safe wherever you go. But mostly, it’s not.”
Neverwhere is not fantasy. It lurks, as does so much of Gaiman’s works, in the realm of magical realism. Even when London Below blends with London Above so its denizens can hold market in the iconic Harrods department store, the world never feels friendly or safe. This is not Narnia or Hogwarts. At no point are Richard, Door, or their companions ever two steps ahead of danger and death. It’s truly exciting.
This is one of Gaiman’s rare stories that focuses more on the quest than the characters, but nevertheless the cast is exciting and diverse. Of particular note are Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar, Door’s ferocious pursuers. Few antagonists are this evil, this powerful, and this charismatic. Gaiman’s characters rarely function in absolutes, but this pair make it work.
Neverwhere is a grand adventure, but one of the few places where the novel’s quality slips is in the moments where Richard contemplates the situation he’s in. He’s thrust into a world he knows as much about as we do, and his perplexing reflections on the unknown are initially strong. However, as the novel goes on, Richard bounces between belief and disbelief. He meets rat people, talks to animals, meets an angel, yet even in the story’s final moments he often rejects the reality of what’s before him. It has a tendency to pull the reader out of the book; stop denying and just do it!
Regardless, Neverwhere is a fantastic novel, and one I highly recommend to those with an affinity for new worlds, unique characters, and nerve-racking adventures. Though it was Gaiman’s first, it ranks amongst his best, featuring all the elements that have made him such a highly regarded writer over his 30+ year career.