My brother introduced me to Neverwhere when, in his dark student flat, he made me watch the TV series one weekend, with the curtains drawn ‘for maximum effect’. I didn’t actually realise there was a book until I moved in with E and, maybe because I knew the story, I have never got round to reading it before now. In fact, last time anyone read our copy was in 2008. I know that because I found the remains of a book of stamps in the book. Jolly Christmas stamps.
Reading the preamble it seems that this is one of the rare occasions where the TV series came before the book, but that the book is actually good. The premise of Neverwhere is that below London there is a place called…well…London Below which is the home of people who have fallen through the cracks of the city. It is a place where Earl’s Court really is the court of an Earl, where the Nights Bridge is a place of horror and where dwells an Angel called Islington. All of these places are connected by the sewers and tunnels underneath London, where muck and brutality provide the backdrop to the story.
In the book we follow the path of the hapless Richard as he is pulled into this violent world against his will following an encounter with a dying girl, the enigmatic Lady Door. In many ways the story is a race between Richard’s growing knowledge of all things in Neverwhere that could kill him, and all of the things actually killing him. Like all the best fantasy novels it is also the story of Richard growing up, or perhaps waking up to the choices you have to make in life. The metaphor of deciding which doors to open would probably be quite apt.
I don’t really know what the term ‘steampunk’ means, but I would have a good guess that it applies to Neverwhere. There is a louche, Dickensian frisson to many of the characters in the book, and, if you are a Londoner, it is great seeing the different parts of London represented in this twisted form.
One of the great things about this book is you are never sure who is a goodie and who is a baddie. Much of London Below runs on a convoluted system of favours and patronage that makes good people do bad things, and bad people occasionally help goodies. This shifting of loyalties keeps the tension going all the way through the book. There are, however, two fantastic ‘baddies’ in Croup and Vandemar who are just deliciously evil.
This is a book that definitely warrants re-reading (but not this year!) and it would be great if there is a sequel. There is so much about London Below that remains unexplained and unexplored.
Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman, REVIEW, London, 2005