Review: Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
‘Richard's story is that of someone who suddenly, and by no fault of his own, finds himself on the other side of the well-oiled workings of modern society.'
Neverwhere is one of these books that's like a maze. For starters, you can't experience it lingering on the sidelines, you have to step inside and immerse yourself in it, and hope you'll find your way through to the end unharmed. Second, once you step inside it, you put yourself wholly at the author's mercy, because before you know it you have no clue which way's up and which way's down.
Neverwhere tells the story of Richard Mayhew, an incredibly normal young man, who moves to London to work an incredibly normal corporate job, whilst entertaining an incredibly normal relationship with his girlfriend. And then, one fine day, Richard's normal life is turned upside down, and he finds himself catapulted in the world of London Below - a city inhabited by the magical, the mystical the incredible. Everything in London Below is both familiar and disturbing. It's reminiscent of the city modern Londoners know and love, but so twisted and reworked the edges of it most common landmarks are barely recognisable.
The more Richard evolves in London Below, the move invisible he becomes to everyone in his previous life. The book is the story of his adventure in this dark and unbelievable other London, as he struggles to find his way back to his old life.
One might read the book as a purely entertaining tale and already get a lot out of it. It's expertly written, with perfectly nuanced characters and a plot that will have you hanging off the edge of your seat in suspense.
But the story has a deeper component. One that brings the spotlight on the very real other side of London as it exists today: a focus on homelessness, of those countless individuals who have fallen through the cracks and who slowly become invisible to everyone living in 'London Above'. Richard's story is that of someone who suddenly, and by no fault of his own, finds himself on the other side of the well-oiled workings of modern society. Someone who can only witness his entire life falling apart around him, without being able of doing anything to prevent it, until he finds himself on the other side of what the world deems acceptable, with no way to get back in.
As we learn more about the extraordinary workings and social construct of London Below, Gaiman gradually sheds a different light on the rigid and arbitrary rules that govern modern society. We're left with one fact to ponder: for all of its creatures and monsters inhabitants, for all of its magic and dark wonders, the more we learn about London Below, the more human it starts to feel. We discover a place beyond the politically-correct and the socially-acceptable, where honour and kindness still mean something, a completely different universe which makes us revisit the legitimacy of the codes that rule our modern lives.
Neverwhere has a disturbing phantasmagoric quality. Its fantastic ride kicks off way before you've had time to fasten your seatbelt and it keeps going, deeper and faster into a world that gets more and more nightmarish by the second. It's an addictive book. It makes you think, and feel, and fear, and hope and it keeps you deliciously uncomfortable from start to finish.
The book was my first encounter with Gaiman's work and it left me wanting more. It's the perfect read for anyone looking for a modern masterpiece, a pearl of storytelling - with a cherry on top for those who know London well and can relate to the locations of London Below. I'm ready to bet that, like me, the first thing you'll do when you finish the will be to check whether Gaiman wrote a sequel.
He didn't, by the way, I checked. And the realisation broke my heart a little.