Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is, for lack of a better description, The Sandman comics in novel form. Neverwhere may not have Gods, or dream weavers, or scary men with teeth for eyes, but it is a creative exploration of dreams and pure imagination.
And unfortunately, I was not a fan.
I know, I know, I can already see the readers foaming at the mouth. “How can you NOT like Neverwhere? Neil Gaiman is the greatest writer that ever lived!”
My issue with the book has nothing to do with Neverwhere’s writing. Neil Gaiman’s prose remains consistently magical and is full of little details that make London Below come alive. But before I go into why I wasn’t a fan, you should know what Neverwhere is about.
The plot is about Richard Mayhew, an ordinary guy. He works at an office, has a regular 9 to 5 job, and he’s with a girlfriend that tolerates his existence. One night, Richard encounters a girl on the run from two men. Richard’s tries to save the girl and ends up transported into an alternate reality called, London Below.
When Richard attempts to resume his normal life by going to work or visiting his girlfriend, he quickly realizes that everyone is ignoring him. He leaves and goes to his apartment, but when he gets there he finds it occupied by strangers. Whenever he tries to speak to his best friend or his girlfriend, they say one word to him and move on as if he didn’t exist. This alternate reality had somehow turned Richard into a ghost.
Stuck with no apartment, no money, no job, no girlfriend, Richard decides to find the girl who got him in this mess in the first place. Her name is Door. Door is the daughter of some nobility in London below and also has the capability to open . . . you guessed it, doors. But when Richard finally meets Door, she tells him that she can’t bring him back to his home dimension.
Richard’s quest to return to the London Above begins. This is the premise of Neverwhere.
So what is the London Below? To describe it simply, London Below is what would happen if you fell asleep on the subway and had a nightmare. It is a twisted, non sensical version of London where “Minding the Gap” means watch out for the monster that lives in the gap between train and the platform. The rats are messengers for the homeless. Junk and random items can be bartered (including your life). And a street name like, Knightsbridge could literally mean that knights are guarding it.
London Below is what would happen if underground subways were towns and marketplaces. And it is this underground theme that ultimately left me uninterested in the book. As a former rider of trains, there is nothing fun or enjoyable to me about a world built around the underground.
Sadly, it wasn’t just the world that disinterested me, the characters also left me detached from the experience. The Marquis De Carabas was written as a cool and suave character; a man so interesting, he needed to have his own bonus content at the back of the book.
I did not read these pages because the Marquis did not interest me. Hunter, a woman who often protected and saved Richard from certain doom, also failed to engage me. I liked Door well enough and I loved the villain, but Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar embodied a type of aesthetic and style that bored me.
The irony is, the book wasn’t boring.
Unlike Ocean at the End of the Lane which has a dreadfully slow beginning, Gaiman’s Neverwhere moves at a steady pace. It’s not too fast, not too slow, just right. Unfortunately, underground worlds are a huge turn off for me, no matter how creative or well written they are. Neverwhere felt like a universe that could exist in a Steampunk setting and I hate Steampunk.
And this, I understand, is a matter of personal taste. It is the equivalent of a die-hard medieval fantasy novel reader trying to force themselves to read a Star Wars book. It doesn’t matter if the characters or plot is interesting, the world will fail to suck in the reader. Neverwhere failed to suck me in.
Had I been a fan of this underground world I would have called Neverwhere a great book, easily 5 stars. Still, for those of you who do like underground themed worlds, then I would highly recommend giving Neverwhere a read. Neil Gaiman, even when he produces work that fails to engage me, is still an amazing writer and I can’t imagine giving Neverwhere anything less than . . .
4 out of 5 stars.