Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I’m not sure why, but Neil Gaiman has never really featured on my reading radar. I’d read Good Omens and loved it, but as a stand alone writer I’d never really had the inclination to pick up his books. I’m not sure what made me change my mind – possibly all my book blogger friends threatening to disown me if I didn’t get it read immediately, but I’m glad I did regardless.

Under the streets of London there’s a world most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, and pale girls in black velvet. Richard Mayhew is a young businessman who is about to find out more than he bargained for about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his safe and predictable life and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and yet utterly bizarre. There’s a girl named Door, an Angel called Islington, an Earl who holds Court on the carriage of a Tube train, a Beast in a labyrinth, and dangers and delights beyond imagining … And Richard, who only wants to go home, is to find a strange destiny waiting for him below the streets of his native city.

While I did enjoy reading Neverwhere, I can’t help but feel it’s ever-so-slightly over-rated. I’m not sure if it suffered from the weight of my too-heavy expectations or what, but I just didn’t love it. There didn’t seem to be much to set it apart from all the other urban fantasy books out there – you know, simply bouncing from clue-giver to clue-giver as an attempt to find the lost key/solve the murder of Miss Duvet/ get back to Never Never Land. I expected it to be cleverer, I think. Instead it’s just fantasy. The tone is a lot more serious than I expected; I mean, it’s still fairly light but not as funny or as acerbic as Pratchett and it’s not as deep as most fantasy books.

That said, it does have some adorable little quirks that made me smile. I loved The Market – how could I not? A secret marketplace filled will all kinds of items, both magical and mundane, all available to be traded for a biro pen or a half-eaten sandwich. It somehow embodies the entire book for me – the diversity present in these scenes is, to a lesser extent, existent throughout the whole.

There are some interesting characters kicking about in there too. Door is a favourite of mine. She can unlock any door, padlock or box just by the power of her mind. It just seemed quite unique to me – it’s not toted as ‘magic,’ it’s just one of those cool things that makes Door… well, Door.

However, the absolute best thing about this book was Richard himself. He’s nothing that special as protagonists go, but he was believable as a normal person (one of us, even) who suddenly finds that everything he thought was a myth is as real as real can be. Rats can talk, little smelly men inhabit the sewers of London, a mysterious beast terrorizes London Below… and Richard doesn’t believe it. You don’t know how refreshing that really is. I’m sick to the back teeth of urban fantasy characters that just automatically accept the newly magical world around them. I’d give Neil Gaiman an awful lot of brownie points for having Richard assume that it’s either all a giant joke, he’s dreaming or slightly insane. I know I wouldn’t just suddenly believe in a secret underground world below London, so why should a fictional character?

I actually liked the epilogue-y thing, which is rare for me. I pretty much just hate Every Epilogue Ever Written, so for there to be one that made me smile is a pretty big thing. All Richard wants throughout the book is to get back to his life. It wasn’t his fault he fell through one of the cracks and ended up in London Below, so he just wants a normal life. Without revealing the ending, there’s a tiny little part that rounds off the whole thing nicely. Seriously, it’s perfect. Not overdone, just… nice.

There’s not much I really disliked about Neverwhere. I enjoyed reading it and I would do so again, it’s just not the ultimate reading experience that I’ve had it described to me as.

Comments

  1. Celine says:

    Neil Gaiman is such a popular writer that I just assumed I would like Evermore. The worst thing is that I just couldn't get through at all. The writing is quite heavy and the fantasy part… a bit meh.

    Maybe I'll have to try to get through again soon. Maybe Gaiman isn't for everyone (:

    1. Hanna says:

      I think I was the same as you – just kind of assumed that I'd like it. I had more success than you because I finished it and enjoyed it, but I don't know… I expected better, I think.

  2. I have this on my bookshelf and I'm really eager to read it. Thanks for your honest review, it's helped me learn a little better what to expect. Hopefully I'll have time to pick it up soon!

    Stephanie @ Stepping Out of the Page
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    1. Hanna says:

      It does seem like I hated it but I really didn't! It's definitely worth picking it up 🙂

  3. [I am such a bad friend! It seems like such a long time since I've waffled on one of your posts – sorry!!]

    This book really is everywhere at the moment, isn't it? It occurred to me as I was reading your review that I didn't really have any idea what it was about. I kind of imagined it to be similar to a Discworld novel so maybe I wasn't a million miles away.

    I also imagine Neil Gaiman to be similar to Christopher Moore, even though I have no idea where these imaginings have come from! Have you read anything by Moore? If you haven't, you should. A Dirty Job in particular sounds kind of like this, just funnier. Maybe instead of reading this, I should go re-start Discworld. I've been thinking about doing that for a while!

    1. Hanna says:

      Haha, that's okay! I don't get all sniffy and pouty when you don't comment 🙂 Just makes it all the more special when you do waffle!

      Is it everywhere? For me it seems to be a continuous presence, you just can't get away from it. I had no idea what it was about either, so when I saw it in the library I grabbed it. It's not really Discworldy. I expected it to be, but I can't help but think it takes itself a little more seriously than that…

      I haven't! Christopher Moore isn't even on my radar, but I shall toddle off and look him up 🙂 Oh, do restart Discworld! Terry Pratchett is what I read when I don't feel like reading. Normal people would just, you know, NOT READ, but hey.

    2. I think maybe I feel as though it's everywhere because a couple of people on Twitter were reading it so every time I logged on it was there. And then there were a few reviews (including yours!) that cemented the idea in my head that everyone was reading it!

      If you are looking at Moore, I really did like A Dirty Job. I've also heard brilliant things about Fool (a re-telling of King Lear) and Lamb, even though I haven't quite got round to them yet! I will though, I will…

      I just put The Colour of Magic on my eReader. Once I've finished being traumatised by SHADOW'S EDGE, I'm going to relive my teens and Discworld it up – excited! 🙂

    3. Hanna says:

      Ha, I always thought I was massively behind because everybody else in the entire world had already read it!

      I didn't like The Colour of Magic much. The Rincewind ones are my least favourite, although I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority there. I love Sam Vimes though, he's my favourite 🙂

      Yay for Shadow's Edge! Traumatising is definitely the word.

  4. I've thought about reading Neverwhere but I've never quite plucked up the courage. I loved Good Omens so I picked up Smoke & Mirrors which is a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman and found his stories were a lot darker than Pratchett's writing and I missed the humor, probably because it wasn't there when I expected it to be. While not all the stories are great (and one is frankly disturbing) there was a great retelling of Snow White at the end which is worth a read.

    Oh & Lit Addicted Brit I agree with Hanna Rincewind is not one of the best characters (I find him pretty annoying actually) so if you get put off the Discworld by him don't dispair try Guard Guards (I too love Vimes!) or anything with Death in (not as morbid as it sounds – honest) or Wyrd Sisters (the witches are fab too and this is a must read for anyone who has read Macbeth).

    1. Hanna says:

      I think Maskerade is my favourite witches book – I love the whole Phantom of the Opera concept 🙂 I like The Hogfather too, although I've already read it a stupid amount of times!

      I saw Smoke & Mirrors in the library the other day actually, but I had a quick flick through and it didn't really appeal. I'm not that much of a short story fan in the first place, but they all looked a little, I don't know, dry?

  5. I picked it up a few years ago and I had never heard anything about Neverwhere or Neil Gaiman and I was shocked by how much I loved it! Granted, I was also new to most Urban Fantasy, so maybe that has something to do with it as well. I definitely found it unique though, especially the points you pointed out as well! I'm curious how I'll find Gaiman's other novels I have waiting now that I'm way more familiar with the genre. Great review! Sorry you didn't love it as much as your friends seemed to.

    1. Hanna says:

      I have a couple more of his books waiting to be read as well (American Gods and Anansi Boys, I think?) so I can't wait to see what you think of them 🙂

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