Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

April 13, 2009 at 10:38 am 6 comments

Even the TITLE sounds magical.

Even the TITLE sounds magical.

“What’s happening?” whispered Richard.

“Darkness is happening,” said the leather woman quietly. “Night is happening. All the nightmares that have come out when the sun goes down, since the cave times, when we huddled together in fear for safety and for warmth, are happening. Now…now is the time to be afraid of the dark.”

Okay, so Tolkien and I are over. I tried to make it work, but really he’s just too smart for me and he knows it, damn it. It’s all Iluvatar this and Beowulf that with him. I can’t deal with fantasy that is really pre-Christian English history in disguise, no matter how many hobbits and dragons are thrown in (actually, the dragon was kind of cool, but then so was The Hobbit. But I digress).

Neil Gaiman is more my kind of fantasy. Yes, he’s brilliant — no one can write American Gods without being some sort of genius. But unlike Tolkien, I never get the feeling that Gaiman is showing off or trying to educate me, but that he just so happens to think that putting Norse gods in America and making them people would make for a really cool story. Gaiman didn’t write the story to teach about Norse Gods — he used the Norse Gods to tell a story. While that may be a subtle distinction, it’s a very important one.

But I’m not here to blog about American Gods. I’m here to blog about Neverwhere, which is apparently a novelization of Gaiman’s TV series about London Below, a population of people who exist in subway tunnels and other places underground in London.

Because Gaiman is an actual writer, rather than a hack hired to transcribe a show into book form to sell to the masses, Neverwhere is so well-written that I can barely bring myself to call this book a novelization. The temptation is to call it a novel in its own right, though clearly inspired by and following the series. The description is incredibly vivid, and describes the inner monologue of characters, especially Richard Mayhew, in a way that would be very difficult to do if just novelizing someone else’s show. Perhaps it’s because Gaiman is familiar with the conventions of many mediums (graphic novels, television, fairy tales and novels) that he is able to do this so easily.

He DOES have an endless imagination!

He DOES have an endless imagination!

The story itself is brilliant and fascinating. He seems to belong to the Susanna Clarke brand of fantasy (though perhaps more accurately, Susanna Clarke belongs to his brand of fantasy), taking fairly realistic settings like the London Underground and twisting them to make them fantastic, filled with open-air markets, women who suck the warmth out of men, and angels who are in exile because of their failure to protect Atlantis. Perhaps Gaiman learned this technique while working with Watchmen writer Alan Moore, who does something similar with Cold-War New York City and a version of London that is set after a nuclear war, both settings that are familiar, yet fantastic.

I’m sure this is not technically Gaiman’s best story; American Gods was richer with mythological allusions and metaphor, Stardust was the perfect reinvention of Faerie that will (and has already started to) create a new generation of fantasy writers, and Anansi Boys is, I believe, the official award-winner. But it’s a wonderful escapist novel that will keep you busy on a plane, if that’s what you’re looking for, or provide a distraction from whatever work you should be doing at the moment.


Entry filed under: Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy. Tags: , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  April 13, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Mr. Gaiman undeniably wins at titles and being ridiculously creative and magical! Have you tried John Crowley’s books? I’ve only read “Little, Big” (which I think is Crowley’s official award winner to Gaiman’s “Anansi Boys”) but it feels the same to me. It is all undeniably somewhere real, but it’s also utterly fantastical and often involves the Fae.

    I’ve finally at least bought “American Gods,” after three different people in five years telling me I *had* to read it, so that bodes well in terms of me actually doing so.

  • 2. KT  |  April 13, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I haven’t tried John Crowley, but now I will! Marvelous!

    You are most likely much better versed in Norse mythology than I am, so no doubt you will appreciate American Gods even more than I did!

  • 3. Corey  |  April 13, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Crowley can be a bit misty and dark, but I think Gaiman can be like that, too, so you might like it. I felt kind of unreal after reading “Little, Big,” so beware the side effects of the book!

  • 4. KT  |  April 13, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Yeah, he can be dark…just wait for American Gods! I don’t mind a bit of darkness, just so long as it doesn’t seem to be consciously trying to reach out to the Goth crowd.

  • 5. Weekly Geeks: P.A.B.D « Literary Transgressions  |  May 19, 2010 at 12:11 am

    […] books have prompted my own P. A. B. D.? Not Twilight, but other fantasy books such as Neverwhere, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and even (to my eternal shame) The Farseer Trilogy have caused […]

  • […] through time between them. I suspect my assumptions stemmed somehow from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, a book with a somewhat similar […]


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