Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere
Urban fantasy for anyone who loves good storytelling
I was talking to a friend one evening about my love for mysterious references in song. How we had gotten on the subject, I can't guess. Once we were, however, the perfect example immediately sprang to mind.
"It's like Tori Amos," I explained, pointing to the stereo where a Tori song was playing. "On each of her albums, one of her songs references this guy Neil. Who is he? Is he someone she knows? Or a reference to a classic figure? What do the surrounding lyrics mean? Like in 'Tear in Your Hand,' she sings 'me and Neil'll be hanging out with the Dream King.' Who's this 'Dream King'?"
"Oh," said my friend, cool as can be. "She's talking about Neil Gaiman. The Dream King is the main character in his graphic novel series, Sandman. He mostly writes novels and short stories now, though."
After years of wondering who the mysterious Neil was, I had the answer when I least expected it. I had no choice now but to read his work.
At the advice of my friend, I chose Neverwhere.
I was still a little skeptical about actually liking Neil Gaiman's writing, but when I picked up Neverwhere in the bookstore and glanced through the quoted reviews that covered the first few pages, I found this:
"I didn't ever want this book to end...Hunter, Islington, Door--these characters are part of my life now...I'm over the moon about this book." -Tori Amos
Right there, staring at me from the first pages of his book were Tori Amos's words. It seemed like confirmation that this Neil was the one she had referenced in song so many times.
Now I didn't just want to read the book because Tori Amos knew him well enough to talk about him in her songs, but I wanted to read it to see what sort of book would make her “over the moon.” And you know what? After I read the book, I completely agreed with her.
"Richard wrote a diary entry in his head. 'Dear diary, he began, on Friday I had a job, a fiancée, a home, and a life that made sense. (Well, as much as any life makes sense.) Then I found an injured girl bleeding on the pavement, and I tried to be a Good Samaritan. Now I've got no fiancée, no home, no job, and I'm walking around a couple hundred feet under the streets of London with the projected life expectancy of a suicidal fruitfly.'"
Although the tale is told from several different view points (third person omniscient for you writerly types), the story centers around the character of Richard Mayhew, a man who at first seems fairly average in every way. Richard quickly finds himself out of his depth in a fantastical, dangerous, and at times humorous world that exists, unseen by the common folk, underneath London. Trapped in this new world, Richard must befriend unlikely characters, avoid dangerous assassins, find angels, and learn to barter ball-point pens for cottage cheese sandwiches.
Adept at page-turning urban fantasy, Neil Gaiman masterfully combines fantasy and realistic elements with a deceptively simple style that weaves rich story lines, vivid characters, and imaginative description with action, humor, and heart. Gaiman brilliantly melds the everyday with the unusual to create a sometimes frightening, sometimes comical world that will have you biting your nails one minute and laughing aloud the next. In short, Neverwhere is a must-read for anyone who enjoys good story-telling.
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