Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How Neverwhere made a Gaiman fan out of me

After a fairly disappointing first encounter with Neil Gaiman's work (*cough*American Gods*cough*), I reluctantly proceeded on to Neverwhere.

Welllllll OK.

And I MUST say, I was pleasantly surprised.

Right away, I could tell I was gonna like this one much better, and I will tell you why: It's set in London, and it's WRITTEN like it's set in London. And now we all know how Anglocentric I am when it comes to Neil Gaiman. *sips Earl Grey haughtily*

After getting through the entirety of American Gods with only one phrase underlined (and it was about the smell of ghost cookies, so it hardly counts), I was relieved to read this on the first page of Neverwhere:
"Inside the pub, Richard's friends continued to celebrate his forthcoming departure with an enthusiasm that, to Richard, was beginning to border on the sinister." (p. 1)
OK, so it's not the most noteworthy sentence ever written, but it made me smile. And then I was free to kick off my booties of reluctance and march onward with hopes hoisted high.

So Richard has moved from Scotland to London (don't worry, Laura . . . no Scottish accents to endure) and is working in [insert generic, sufficiently lucrative career field here]. He is engaged to an ambitious and beautiful woman who goes by Jessica (NEVER Jess). She's the kind of woman who's always trying to improve her man, and poor Richard just holds her purse in Harrods and toddles behind her through art galleries and wears the clothes she picks out and pretends to read the motivational self-help books she buys.

But that all changes when a mysterious young girl literally falls in his path and involves him (kind of accidentally) in her very personal quest, which takes them through London tunnels populated by all the people who have slipped between the cracks . . . a city beneath the city.

And, guys, there's MAGIC. And people who talk to rats. And people who live in secret subway cars. And a Floating Market. And I giant pig-monster. And some TRULY nefarious villains who are somehow simultaneously hilarious and terrifying. And the Marquis de Carabas, a shady yet lovable character who, as far as I'm concerned, looks like this:

Don't mind if I DO.
**UPDATE OF SOME IMPORTANCE: Concerned individuals are pointing out that the Marquis de Carabas is black. Thank you, concerned individuals. I cherish you. But I can't make myself picture him any differently, and I hope that doesn't make me a bad person. Let's blame Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. (And, yes, I KNOW that picture up there isn't from Abraham Lincoln, but I couldn't find any good ones of Mr. Cooper, and I just . . . be nice to me, guys. I just got cream cheese on my keyboard.)**

Even the most secondary of secondary characters are fully fleshed out, sometimes eliciting disgust and sometimes making your heart squeeze a little.
"Hammersmith enveloped Richard's hand in one several sizes up. His handshake was enthusiastic, but very gentle, as if he had, in the past, had a number of accidents shaking hands and had practiced it until he got it right." (p. 271)
And the setting in London Below is borderline steampunk-tastic, and there's no irritating forced romance between the protagonists (other than my ongoing love affair with the Marquis, but that's neither here nor there and not at ALL forced no matter what you've heard). And, frankly, I didn't want to return to the surface when the story was over.

Now watch as I wantonly compare this book to other things. We have some serious Labyrinth parallels here. And I mean that in the best way possible (but how else CAN you mean a Labyrinth comparison?). Richard is practically a male Sarah: the regular-old boring human thrown into a world of mystery and magic and fantastical characters. The underground tunnels are pretty maze-like already, and then there's an ACTUAL labyrinth at one point. There's even a character similar to Jareth . . . but I'll let you figure out which one it is.

Just try to resist reading it NOW.
SOURCE: Gaiman, Neil. (1996). Neverwhere. New York: HarperCollins.


  1. Yay! Gaiman hath redeemed himself, and I have still read none of his books :) And oh the RELIEF at an author who can set part of his book in Scotland and yet resist using Scottish dialect! He's my hero!

  2. Mayhap you should start with this one when you DO dive into the Gaiman works. Now that you know there isn't any Scottish dialect.

  3. I haven't ever read any Gaiman... It sounds like this is the place to start. Great review!

    Also. That dog gif made me make a very strange noise -- kind of hybrid between an AWWW and a hiccup of genuine surprise at the way his doglegs move.

  4. I assume ye are no' a fan of the Outlander books, then? D'ye ken what I mean, lassie?

  5. Gah, that puppy!

    And now I want to read this. I mean a magical city beneath London? And those quotes.

  6. I've been sitting on that GIF for some time now. And I said to myself, "Today's the day, Boston in booties. Today's the day."

  7. Laura can't answer right now...she's busy having a dialect-induced seizure.

  8. I KNOW. The premise is pretty irresistible on its own, and the book delivers. I want to go back!