For mild-mannered office drone Richard Mayhew, stopping to help an injured stranger has a multitude of consequences- some good, some bad, but all undeniably bizarre. The stranger in question is Door (yes, that’s actually her name,) a waif of many talents who resides in the underground wonderland of London Below, and is on the run from the duo of thugs who killed her family. Door’s special ability is that of ‘opening,’ i.e. the ability to open any door or simply conjure one into being just by concentrating.
Richard has a big heart but is a bit of a pushover and is totally out of his element while scurrying after Door, who feels obliged to protect him, through the cavernous kingdom of the Underside, a realm that exists beneath London. Together they meet a plethora of odd characters- the beautiful and icy Hunter, the smooth-talking Marquis de Carabas, and the predatory but lovely ‘Velvets,’ to name a few. On the run, from sinister antagonists. Richard must find his inner strength if he is to survive.
This is my first book by Neil Gaiman (shame!) and I found it to be a quite captivating work. With a mind-blowing fantasy world full of shady characters and a pair of uproariously weird villains such as Mr. Vandemar and Mr. Croup, how can a novel fail to be supremely entertaining? I liked Richard as a protagonist, but I often found him to be a bit of a burden to the group, such as when he blindly allows himself to be bested by a seductive female creature and falls to pieces when his fear of heights is tested.
“Neverwhere” is witty and fun and has a weird and wonderful mythology behind it. I found the writing to sometimes be alternately repetitive and vague (so that I had trouble picturing the characters and situations) and the author tended to use extremely strange similes that didn’t really work in the context. The last chapter went on too long as well, compared to the fast paced majority of the book.
Apparently the television series “Neverwhere” (1996) came first- Neil Gaiman wrote the book in order to add the extra substance that couldn’t be featured in the series. I’m torn about watching the series- on one hand it’s tempting to see the origins of the book, on the other hand I have read it was an extremely cheap (and some say badly-acted) production, and part of me wants to imagine the story rather than see it played out on screen.
I love how ambiguous and odd the beings who inhabit the Underside are- if they agree to help Richard and his friends it will be entirely for their own reasons, not out of loyalty or nobility or any moral-based traits. With the odd exception, the creatures of London below are not really good, nor very bad for that matter. The just are. They want to be left alone, and they’ll provide help when it’s in their best interest. But do the people of London above, our world, really support Richard and his moral center either?
When you look at mankind’s reaction to discord (Richard’s fickle girlfriend, Jessica, futilely tries to coerce him to leave the bloodied Door in the middle of the sidewalk to get to an important dinner,) the unwashed underground wackos don’t seem so otherworldly after all. “Neverwhere” might in part be a commentary on London’s less privileged classes, but it doesn’t feel like a lecture. It’s unabashedly imaginative, vibrantly alive, and just as wildly original as a modern fantasy novel should be.