Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Until Santa left Neverwhere in my stocking this Christmas, I was not aware that Neil Gaiman had written any novels for adults.  I have seen Coraline, I knew of some of his graphic novel work, I follow him on Twitter, but I'd not yet read anything of his.  So it was with a great deal of anticipation that I started this novel, and Gaiman's creative mind is something to behold.

Richard Mayhew is our protagonist, a Scot living in London with his first real job, an apartment, a fiancee and a generally normal life.  One night he finds - and helps - a young woman who's bleeding on the sidewalk.  A few hours later she disappears, and along with her goes the rest of his life.  He is no longer visible to taxis, his bank cards don't work, his super is renting his apartment to another couple.  He has slipped through the cracks.

And when someone slips through the cracks, he finds himself in London Below, a completely separate place that coexists alongside the regular London Above.  But it's different.  Richard finds himself traveling through the city's sewers and subways with the Lady Door, the girl he'd helped in London Above, and her bodyguard Hunter.  There are medieval monks who guard a mysterious key, assassins who appear to be some sort of humanoid except that they don't bleed, characters who adeptly straddle the good guy/bad guy divide, rats and the people who speak to them and more.  Richard's efforts to help Door - without inadvertently finding himself dead - take him deep into London Below.  And each adventure finds him better suited to surviving in this world, while even more desperately wishing to return home.

The world created by Gaiman is fascinating.  It also beautifully demonstrates one of the key attributes of great fantasy: a world so close to our own, the reader can truly imagine its existence.  London Below is frightening in this regard.  Gaiman calls upon the nightmares of any person who's lived in a big city: the beasts under bridges, inside the subways... the real reasons you "mind the gap."  He plays on London's landmarks in a way that makes you think, "So *that's* how Knightsbridge got its name..." 

I am less enthralled, however, with Gaiman's style of writing.  The characters at times feel so real I can visualize the contents of their pockets.  But he tries too hard with his use of overwrought similes and metaphors.  Too often he says something that he could have shown.

That complaint aside, I am very happy to have read this imaginative (and at times terrifying) book.  I am also going to pursue more of Gaiman's books in the future; both Coraline and his best-known novel American Gods are certainly on my list.

Next up: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See.  I know nothing about it, but I'm reading it to join a friend's book club... first time I'll have a real book group discussion since the Fearless Readers!

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