Friday, 8 November 2013

'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman (1996)

Synopsis: Richard Mayhew is a young Scottish businessman and lives in London. He lives a perfectly ordinary life until he goes walking through the city one night and finds a mysterious young woman called Door who's lying on the ground and bleeding. Despite the protests from his fiancée Jessica, Richard decides to help Door and his life is then completely changed as a result. Door is a noblewoman, has supernatural powers, and comes from the world of London Below - a vast subterranean realm that exists beneath the London that we know. In London Below familiar place names from London take on a new significance. It's a world in which Knightsbridge is a dangerous place called "Night's Bridge" and the Angel, Islington is an actual angel. By helping Door, Richard has thwarted an assassination attempt but is now invisible and non-existent to the people of London Above. He's left with no other option but to travel down to London Below and team up with Door and her companions: the Marquis de Carabas and a bodyguard called Hunter. Richard then embarks on a quest to protect Door from the assassins Croup and Vandemar and to find out who ordered them to murder Door's family - all whilst trying to get back to his old life in London Above.

Neverwhere originally began as a miniseries that Neil Gaiman was commissioned to write for the BBC. The miniseries wasn't a huge hit at the time but it later went on to gain a small but passionate cult following. However, Gaiman wasn't happy with the miniseries because the producers had cut many of his scenes. This was partly due to time constraints and partly because they simply didn't have a big enough budget to present Gaiman's ideas onto screen. Gaiman then decided to adapt his original script into a novel.

It's funny for me to look back on this now but I didn't actually care all that much for the first couple of Neil Gaiman books that I read. I was disappointed with American Gods and Stardust. I didn't feel that either of those books were bad but neither of them really lived up to my expectations and I felt let down. I wouldn't have the slightest hesitation in naming Gaiman as being one of my favourite authors now though because I love Anansi Boys, Coraline, The Graveyard Book and now Neverwhere :) Gaiman has also written one of my all-time favourite Doctor Who episodes (The Doctor's Wife) and I even got him to sign my copy of Anansi Boys from when he did a press tour a few years ago! :D

Now that I've finally read Neverwhere it's seriously challenging Anansi Boys as being my favourite out of Neil Gaiman's adult novels because it's an utterly fantastic urban fantasy novel! It's gripping and fast-paced and suspenseful and full of adventure and excitement. I can honestly say that I would never actually want to visit London Below - there are far too many sewers for my liking! - but it's still an extremely entertaining place to read about as it's vivid, gritty, dangerous, eerie and full of atmosphere. But there's also a huge amount of humour in Neverwhere and if you've ever lived in London or know it reasonably well (as I do) then it's even more fun to read! To enjoy this book a good knowledge of London is by no means essential but it will definitely enhance your enjoyment of the story. London tube journeys have now been forever changed to me because I'm never going to be able to hear the phrase "Mind the Gap" in the same way again!

Then there are also Neverwhere's brilliant characters. Richard is a slightly bland hero to be honest but he's still quite likeable and the supporting characters in this book are even better. They're so eccentric and weird and fascinating! I loved the Marquis de Carabas, Old Bailey, Lady Door and Islington and their characters will stay with me for a very long time.

I really hope that Gaiman will eventually write a sequel to Neverwhere some day. Gaiman doesn't do sequels but he's always said that Neverwhere is the only book of his that he would actually consider writing a sequel for. I'd love to read about Richard, Door and the Marquis de Carabas having further adventures so I would be so thrilled if a sequel eventually materialised one day! And finally, before I wrap this review up, I feel I should also mention that I'm absolutely loving the recent BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of Neverwhere at the moment. It has an insanely star-studded cast of actors and will be the subject of my next post :)

Rating: 5/5

P.S. I was extremely upset when I learnt that an American high school had recently pulled
Neverwhere off of its reading list because of a parent complaining about its "graphic sexual content". The fact that the school caved in to the demands of one - one! - parent without even putting up any kind of a fight is absolutely pathetic. Neverwhere had been on their curriculum since 2004 and hadn't ever received a single complaint before - and would you give in so easily to just one parent's objections?! Obviously parents should have a role in what their own children are exposed to but no parent should have the right to force their values and tastes onto other people's children. I'm a fervent opposer of book banning and censorship and I would encourage my readers to read this great post from my blogger friend BookWormans on the subject :)

For anyone who's curious, the parent wanted the book banned from the school because of a very brief scene which you can read here. All that happens is that an adulterous couple start kissing on a park bench next to an invisible Richard. The man slides his hand up the woman's jumper, they exchange a few swear words ("f***"), and then they leave. We never even see this couple again. This scene is only there to highlight Richard's invisibility to the people of London Above. It's a massive stretch to call the entire book inappropriate just because of this one scene! Gaiman has also said that with Neverwhere he was basically trying to write an adult's take on the books that he had loved as a child - Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and The Chronicles of Narnia. However Neverwhere has actually got very little of the features that sometimes crop up in adult books. There's very little swearing or sexuality in this book at all and it's only really adult in terms of its mature themes.


bookwormans said...

Thanks for the shout out! This was a wonderful post! It is so important that people be allowed to decide for themselves (and their own children) what is and is not acceptable reading material. I would have lost out on some great stories if I had not made reading choices for myself.

Hannah said...

Aw, thank you! And you're completely right in what you say of course :)

Ruby Danderfluff said...

Wow, this sounds so so very fun! Echoes back (ever so slightly) to Suzanne Collins' "Gregor the Overlander" series. Though, of course, that was juvi-fic, and this sounds much, much more dark and... British. ^^

Very tantalizing...

Hannah said...

Ooh, I haven't read any of Suzanne Collins' non-Hunger Games books yet. If you've read THG then how do they compare?

Again, I LOVE Neverwhere. It's very dark at times but also very funny and, yes, British at other times :) I think it could make for a great introduction to Neil Gaiman's work. Although you could also try 'Anansi Boys' (which is the funniest of his books that I've read so far) or his children's books 'Coraline' and 'The Graveyard Book'. The latter is quite beautiful I think.

There was also a BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Neverwhere that came out earlier this year. I thought that was absolutely brilliant. It's extremely faithful to the book and it had an AMAZING cast: James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Romola Garai, Sir Christopher Lee and Neil Gaiman himself amongst many others!

Ruby Danderfluff said...

I've only read the first chapter or so of The Hunger Games. It was at least a year ago, and I just remember thinking it was a deal drier and less enjoyable than "Gregor the Overlander." It's been a good long while since I've read either of them, so I don't know if that perception is at all accurate; but I did enjoy "Gregor" much more at the time. =)

Wondering how I can find the radio show over here in the states... That is an *amazing* cast list! =D

Do you know if that miniseries is available on DVD anywhere? Sounds much interesting.

Hannah said...

I've checked online for you. You can download the radio drama on Audible. The link is below. I have 'Neverwhere' on CD but I don't think it's available in CD format in the USA just yet. Normally I would absolutely insist that you read the book first but I don't think it would hurt if you listened to the radio drama first actually. It's extremely faithful to the book and it only leaves out a few minor scenes.

The miniseries is also available on Amazon but since pretty much everyone says that the book & the radio drama are better I wouldn't suggest that it should be your first experience of 'Neverwhere'.

Ruby Danderfluff said...

Wow, might be time to use that 30-day Audible trial! Good to know the miniseries isn't the best way to start this one. Food for thought. =)

Thanks so much for the info!

Hannah said...

No problem ;) I'm very interested in what you'll think of it!

Manette said...

My dad is going to (hopefully) bring me this book when he returns from Scotland – I couldn't find it anywhere in Finland and it sounds so wonderfully interesting based on what everyone says about it! Can't wait to read this :)

Hannah said...

Manette - How exciting! :D I think this book would be a great introduction to Neil Gaiman. Can I just ask: has watching The Doctor's Wife brought this on? ;)

Manette said...

I haven't watched Doctor Who's sixth series at all yet – to be perfectly honest, I need to save some money right now :D I simply heard so many praising reviews about Neil Gaiman's work in general and found out that Neverwhere is of a sort of urban fantasy genre, which I haven't really read before. Fantasy is so often set somewhere Medieval-ish and I'm very, very interested to see it happen in a different setting for a change! (I'm also hoping to buy that DW series six box, seriously...)

Hannah said...

Oh ok! Yes, Neil Gaiman is awesome :D Most of his books do fit into the urban genre genre. 'Stardust' starts off in Victorian England and then goes into Faerie and 'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' - which to my shame I still haven't read yet - is more of a magical realism novel.

'Anansi Boys' was the novel that made me a proper Gaiman fan. I'd read 'American Gods' and Stardust' before that and although I'd found them very interesting I didn't really love them. But 'Anansi Boys' was so charming and funny that I loved it! And I have a signed copy of it from Gaiman! :D Then I read 'The Graveyard Book' which is just wonderful. It's one of his children's books and it's a beautiful coming of age story. 'Coraline' is great and is also a children's novel. I don't love it as much as 'The Graveyard Book' but it's really suspenseful and eerie. And then there's this book which you know I loved :)

I think Neverwhere is probably the best Neil Gaiman book to start off - Anansi Boys is more light-hearted then his usual stuff - and then once you're done with that I'd read The Graveyard Book for a taste of his children's fiction :) And try to get the BBC Radio 4 dramatisation too! Once you've saved more money that is! :D

Hannah said...

"Most of his books do fit into the urban fantasy genre" *groans* I hate typos.