on 14 December 2004
Everybody traveling in London by Tube, is familiar with the loudspeaker's warning "Mind the Gap", that is the space between platform and train carriage. Reading Gaiman, "Gaps" takes on a much more complex meaning... People can fall through the cracks, literally, not only down onto the rails but much deeper, ending up in "London Below". Richard Mayhew, a young man with nothing much happening in his life, is an unlikely Samaritan. Still, when confronted with a choice he follows his charitable instinct and assists a wounded rag girl he finds lying in the street. To save her from her apparent killers he goes on a quest and from this moment his life turns into a rollercoaster of discovery and danger.
"Neverwhere" is a brilliant yarn of life in the underbelly of the city, with shady human characters, speaking rats and special "guides". There is more than one reality for sure. In London Above, Richard and the rag girl, named appropriately "Door", can be seen but not recalled beyond the moment. The real-life maze of London underground tunnels, hidden passageways and dead ends provide the existent, yet twisted, backdrop to the story. Time and distances have no meaning. The names of tube stations acquire new relevance: the Earl resides at Earl's Court, the black Friar monks are in Blackfriars and Islington is an Angel. Following Door and her unusual companions, Richard discovers the limits of his endurance. He has to question his existence and reality. While his desire to get back to his normal life keeps him going, his chances to shake loose from the shadowy underworld increasingly appear to diminish...
The novel, which expands on Gaiman's successful tv production, is a fascinating read, whether you know London or not (yet). His style is fluid and engaging, his characters are very much alive and moving the various layers of intrigue along at a good pace. [Friederike Knabe]
on 20 September 2002
Neverwhere is a fantastic piece of modern fantasy and I suggest that everyone who likes London and the surreal read it. I give it 5 stars, usually, but... DO NOT BUY THE AMERICAN VERSION!!! This is a British book, and the American version has been sorely edited. And I'm not talking about the second prologue, either. All my favorite lines are missing from the Avon printing. Apperantly Americans couldn't handle funny lines in serious scenes... So he edited out much good humour. Look, it's less good. Buy British!
on 14 June 2006
Richard Mayhew has just been "a Good Samaritan" to a girl lying bleeding on a London pavement, and has thereby ruined his entire life. The girl, you see, a young lady by the name of Door, is an important person in the world of "London Below", and some very unpleasant people are trying to kill her. By hiding her, Richard becomes "one of the people who fell through the cracks", invisible to the inhabitants of the normal world - London Above -and easy prey for the terrifying creatures of London Below. Until he finds Door again, and is sucked into her quest to find the murderers of her family...
Gaiman has created an eerie otherworld in the sewers of London and the tunnels and stations of the Underground that is complete in every detail and so interwoven with the "real" world that its frightening. Never having been to London, I'm starting to be a bit scared of the Tube Stations: real shepards at Shepards Bush (ones you don't ever want to meet), an earl in Earl's Court, saxophone players who live both in the Above and the Below, Old Bailey and Hammersmith are people, Knightsbridge is a bad neighbourhood...
And at the end you are left with enough answers to satisfy as concerns the main plotline, but not all the answers you want. There is so much detail in London Below that there are thousands of things begging to be explored and examined: The system of fiefdoms which apparently rules Below, but which is never really explained, the importance of Door's family, the Seven Sisters, the story of the swashbuckling, sardonic Marquis de Carabas (books could be written about him, he is undoubtably my favourite character) and more; really the list could go on forever. But that is what makes it all so convincing: Gaiman wastes no time explaining anything, he just tells the story. The spooky atmosphere and fast pace ensure that the somewhat predictable plot never gets boring - you don't even realise it was predictable until you come to the big showdown. And the end is just perfect.
on 2 November 2002
Neil Gaiman's 'Underside' is a delight from start to finish. Richard Mayhew, a young Scot living and working in London, finds himself helping a young girl lying in a street who is being pursued by two sinister looking men. Reluctantly, he finds himself being drawn into a tangled web of a plot that leads him to an London Below, a London that exists both beneath London and as a parallel alternative universe London, a London where people live who 'fall through the cracks.' This London is highly inventive, richly detailed, and, despite the unrealness of it, convincing. I, for one, will never be able to take the London Underground again and wonder about the trains with darkened windows that go though the stations without stopping ' Do they carry the court of the Earl on it? And how did Earl's Court get its name? Or Baron's Court, for that matter? I shall certainly never go to Harrods or go on board HMS Belfast without thinking of the Floating Market. London Below is peopled with colourful and strange characters ' The Lady Door, The Marquis de Carabas, Hunter, The Angel Islington, (now didn't you just wonder how The Angel Islington got its name?) and many others, including the menacing Mr Vandemar and Mr Croup. This is the sort of book that Michael Moorcock would be writing if he was still writing decent books. Even if you don't know London, this book is still wonderful ' you will want to get to know it. The story is gripping and the writing is vivid and sharp. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Gaiman, by far, is the best writer writing fantasy today.
on 19 September 2002
Neil Gaiman is a favourite writer of mine and this is a good showcase for his talent for his dark and potent imagination. Magically he takes that famously surreal map of the London Underground and twists it into something far stranger that lies beneath and behind the real London - a place where the famous station names come alive. Here we have a real angel called Islington, a Earl who holds court on his own underground carriage and a group of religious recluses known as the Black Friars (to name but a few).
As with all Gaiman's work, there is a great deal of dark themes in the book (The streets of London Below owe a lot to those areas of London above where the homeless live) and Gaiman makes sure this doesn't turn into a simple one joke idea. His characterisations are absolutely fantastic. Whilst Richard (the hero) is a fairly bland innocent abroad, he balances him against the sly, old Marquis de Carabas and the pantomime villany of Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar - a pair of vicious (and yet comic) characters who look to have shambled straight out of a Victorian nightmare.
The story itself is taut, beautifully-written, thought-provoking and a pleasure to read. Not a long read but one I'm sure you will come back to time after time.
on 18 February 2006
This is an intelligently, darkly written modern fantasy at its best. The characters are vivid and the images are all charmingly un-hinged and eccentric. Gaiman creates "the other London" - a London existing underneath our mundane world. This is Tolkein, Kafka, C.S Lewis and Pratchett all spiralled and spun into one demented mixture (though not necessarily in that order).
The main character Richard - an ordinary 30 something businessman - is inadvertently sucked into this other world by helping a young girl. His quest to "get back home" to the world above the underground throughout the entire novel only seems to heighten the dark characters and the fantastical nature of this bizarre, eccentrically charged world. The beautiful, yet quirky Door, Old Bailey, the irascible Marquis de Carabas, and the inhumane brutality of the villains Mr. Croup and Vandermar are all terrifyingly, yet wonderfully vivid and fantastical. This is how THE TEMPEST would have read had it been dreamt up by an intoxicated rock band from hell.
Coming to Gaiman for the first time, I was slightly dubious as I skimmed over the dark cover of the novel for the first time in a book shop. I let it settle for a while on my coffee table as I got home. But when I eventually picked it up I was hooked from the first page onwards. Not only is it a suspense thriller, its also a beautifully written journey through fairy land, through insanity, and heaven and hell, through light and through darkness.
I was unable to put it down even as the birds began to sing again in the dark of the twighlit hours of the morning - a fitting setting to the black, bohemian and slightly demented world of Under London, tinged with flashes of comic genius. I will never look at a tube station in the same way again. Truly worth a read. Highly recommended...
on 19 March 2002
I don't know how many of you may remember the BBC T.V. series of Neverwhere (if you live in the States even more so). I still have a battered first edition knocking around on my shelf at home. Well read but happy.
TV never quite did this justice, and the important thing I realised from re-reading this novel recently is that from doing so I now find very hard to picture it on TV at all. Neither can I picture it transferred as a graphic novel - the form Gaiman is most accreditted to. This is a work all of its own.
London below is a brilliant, ironic, dark an foreboding place with fascinates with each new place and character we are shown. I find myself believing that it almost could exist, and Gaiman's use of local historical knowledge and re-working the tube map creates a giant world of which i am left wanting to see more after the book has been finished and returned to the shelf.
For the snooty who think of Gaiman as a lesser writer for finding fame in graphic novels, I would strongly suggest you read this book. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
For those who don't have such strange heirs and graces read it also. I did and I've been smitten ever since.
on 28 March 2015
There are a few things I need to clear up before I get into the bones of this review. The first is that I started reading Neverwhere because I’m getting involved with a London book club, and as the first host I was able to take my pick of the titles that the club will discuss – the only catch is that all of the books are London-themed. I actually studied London in Literature as a module at university and so a lot of the books on the list were books that I’d already read. But I’ve read some Gaiman before and this one was new to me, so it was a no-brainer.
The second thing that I wanted to mention was the sad death of Terry Pratchett, a personal hero of mine, due to Alzheimer’s disease. Pratchett passed away whilst I was reading this, which brought his death home even closer – I’ve already read Good Omens, which Pratchett and Gaiman wrote together, and the two authors were close friends. On the blurb of the book, Wired even says that it’s “the sort of book Terry Pratchett might produce if he spent a month locked in a cell with Franz Kafka.”
I’m not going to talk more about Pratchett, nor indeed about London apart from to point out that the novel is set in the city and, to a certain extent, underneath it. The locations in the book do, of course, help to define it, but it’s the characters and the story line which really grip you – loosely speaking, we follow a loose band of heroes through the murky underworld of a second London, which thrives beneath the streets and in the sewers.
It’s a vividly-described and thoroughly engrossing hybrid between a sociological satire and an honest-to-goodness fantasy novel, with elements of other genres thrown in. If London is a melting pot for different cultures, Gaiman’s work is a melting pot for different genres, and it’s fascinating to see how they’ve evolved over time and formed their own unique fusion.
This might not be Gaiman’s finest work, but it is still a fantastic piece in its own right, and it’s one that’s definitely worth reading if you get a chance to do so.
Richard Mayhew, a quiet, rather mundane man, finds an injured young woman on a London street. She's reluctant to be helped, but he seeks to restore her to health anyway. The appearance of two mysterious men seeking her brings an immediate tension, little helped by the woman's apparent disappearance. When she re-emerges from wherever she'd hidden, it begins a string of amazing adventures. The young woman, "Door" seems to possess bizarre powers as she leads Richard into a new, wholly unanticipated realm - below the city's streets.
Although Door is on a quest that would place Richard, and herself, in grave danger, she leads him through this bizarre society. She's young, vulnerable and clearly frightened. It doesn't matter that she's from a respected family. They have all been slaughtered and Door's protectors are few. They aren't always effective, either. As a newcomer to this world, Richard is not placed to act as the fantasy hero. Gaiman paints him admirably, a terrified city man who yet manages the flash of courage and insight. More importantly, Richard Mayhew cares, and the novelty of that feeling in this environment proves strangely beneficial.
Gaiman's prose gifts, combined with a vivid imagination, have produced a sterling example of "modern" fantasy. What does lie below the congested streets of Britain's capital? Gaiman proposes a mix of ancient spirits and semi-human beings who have formed societies, alliances, meeting places and residences. There are those who communicate with the rats, a major population segment, as expected. The author creates an amazing melange of figures, including, even at these depths, an angel. Among the most important aspect of this realm is the Floating Market. Never fixed in time or place, the Market provides a location for exchanges of services as well as goods. The bustle and chaos of any large bazaar are present, as is an element of peace. When the Market is running, there is the Market Truce, protecting the innocent and malign alike. With many of Gaiman's characters bent on exterminating their fellows for a wide variety of reasons, this haven is essential.
This complex tale mixes elements of ancient legend, modern business dealings and some innovative aspects. The combination keeps the reader's attention firmly captured as you are led through a string of the unexpected. Friends betray and enemies become allies - before shifting back again. The true hero is a woman - a self-appointed guardian who expects no reward but acknowledgement of duty properly exercised. This is a fantasy land, but the telephone becomes a significant element. There is a background manipulator of events who remains enigmatic to the end. With all these aspects carefully depicted and developed, Neverwhere will remain a major work in the fantasy genre, while sustaining its unique qualities. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
on 21 June 2016
I really enjoyed this book.
Really imaginative plot with very likeable characters.
The London Underground connections are great.
If you enjoyed reading the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, I would be very surprised if you don't enjoy this book too!