Neverwhere

Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: 1996
Website: Amazon page

The first fifty pages of Neverwhere are an introduction to London Above and London Below: coexisting worlds with extremely limited interactions. The remaining three-hundred pages of Neverwhere are an introduction and exploration of magic, quirky characters, and the overly black-and-white theme of good versus evil in Neil Gaiman’s interesting world. After reading Neverwhere I had a short debate with myself about which literary classic it most closely mirrored, and Alice in Wonderland jumped to mind. Alice in Wonderland is not a well-known novel because a girl fell down a hole into a new world; rather it is a classic because the supporting characters, dialogue, and plot are so wacky that the reader is at once laughing and rolling his or her eyes. Neverwhere is similarly ordinary when it comes to the main character, Richard: a bland London worker-bee who falls out of love and into London Below. What makes Neverwhere wonderful and worth reading and possibly rereading is the cast of characters with whom Richard interacts: an angel, a girl named Door, a fraudulent yet honorable bodyguard, and lots and lots of rats. Gaiman is amazingly good at making the reader feel privileged to access the world he has created even as the plot itself deviates only slightly from the stereotypical fantasy-genre tale of adventure.

I recently heard Gaiman speak (and read from Neverwhere) at the University of Chicago, and looking back on his reading I am convinced that Neverwhere is one of those books where the characters can be thought of in entirely different ways by the people who read them. Gaiman’s descriptions are vivid, and the people and places seem alive, but when I read the passage that Gaiman chose to read to his audience in an auditorium, the details I chose to pull from the text (tone of voice for example) were entirely different from the details which Gaiman emphasized. I love books which allow the reader to reimagine characters based on the author’s framework, and Gaiman does just enough vivid explaining and subtle blurring of facts so that the reader must make his own decisions about the appearance, tone, and disposition of the individuals who surround the protagonist.

And lastly, I think that I should thank whoever designed the cover for my edition of Neverwhere, because it is one of the nicest and most tasteful (i.e. non-garish!) covers I have seen for a book in the fantasy genre in a huge amount of time. On to the BBC short series!

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