Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Neverwhere, a Review

Neil Gaiman is arguably one of the finest story tellers of the modern age.  Neverwhere, written in 1996, is one of Gaiman's earlier fiction books.  The book's gimmick is simple: what if there was another city below the city of London, a city found between cracks and filled with a colorful cast of characters and magic?  And what if a Londoner accidentally found himself in London Below?  This may not seem like an entirely original idea, but in the hands of Gaiman, even tropes seem original.

Richard Mayhew lives a life of simplicity and unexcitement.  He spends all his time trailing around behind his fiancée touring various museums throughout the city or working at his dull job.  His ambitions are relatively low.  One night, while out on a date with his betrothed, a young woman stumbles out onto the sidewalk, bleeding and obviously injured.  Richard stops to help her, and his world forever changes.  This happenstance plummets Richard's otherwise plain life into something altogether alien, and Richard yearns desperately to return to normalcy.

What follows can only be described as a travelogue through a parallel universe.  London Below is a town eerily similar to regular London, but oh so different.  For magic, or something like it, exists here.  The rats are in a hierarchy of their own, having Speakers that do their talking for them.  The Floating Market literally changes places regularly.  The people are all varied, some with special knacks or skills, others with with childlike simplicity.  And it is this, the people of London Below, that makes Neverwhere such an exciting and wonderful read.

There are several memorable characters from the book.  Perhaps the best of all are the villains, Mr. Vandemar and Mr. Croup.  The two are presented from Page One as such wicked and vile creatures, gentlemen with not an ounce of pity in their bodies, that I couldn't help but despise them.  The two have some of the best scenes in the book, enhanced by brilliant dialogue.  Consider this brief scene:
"To be magnificently frank, Mister Mayhew--and I'm sure you want me to be frank, don't you?--were I you I would no longer worry about the young lady. Her days are numbered, and the number in question isn't even in the double digits."
"Why are you calling me?"
"Mister Mayhew," said Mr. Croup, helpfully, "do you know what your own liver tastes like?" Richard was silent. "Because Mister Vandemar has promised me that he's personally going to cut it out and stuff it into your mouth before he slits your sad little throat. So you'll find out, won't you?"
I mean, sheesh.  What wretched people.  And these are just the villains!  The rest of the characters are equally mesmerizing, and I could go on and on about each of them.  But to remain spoiler-free, I'll stop there.

In addition to the delightful dramatis personæ, the general plot of the book is outstanding.  Gaiman paces the thing to where I was hardly able to put the book down.  There was so much going on that I had to keep turning pages to find out what would happen.  Couple this with a relatively short book and you've got a very quick and very tight read.  Pages aren't wasted, not at all.

Why am I reviewing a sixteen year old book?  I'm not saying anything new or different from what so many others have said.  Why?  Because the book tells a fascinating story about so many different things that I would be remiss to not recommend it.  And believe me, Neverwhere is boldly recommended.  For anyone looking for a fun story to fall into, look no further than Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.  Truly remarkable.

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