This month's book is Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.
|This is the edition I first read, and the cover that comes to mind when I think of Neverwhere.|
If you've never heard of this book, let me give you a quick history lesson. Neverwhere began as a TV show for the BBC. While the show was in production, Neil Gaiman worked on a novelization to bear with the cuts and changes the show made to the scripts. Now, the book is a bestseller and the show is hardly known (though it does have a cult following in some circles). When the American edition was released, Gaiman cut some things (mostly a second prologue and some humor the editor thought would go over the American audience's heads) and added others (like descriptions for people who hadn't been to London). Then for its 10th anniversary, Gaiman released a new edition called the "Author's Preferred Text" which streamlined the UK and US editions, reincorporating many of the cuts to the American edition. Then, in 2013, BBC Radio made a radio play adaptation.
I mention this last point because I've listened through the radio version twice now. It's got spot-on casting and even features some cameos from Gaiman himself.
Right. On to the book.
Neverwhere follows an average Joe named Richard who, after saving an apparently homeless young woman, is swept into a parallel city called London Below, where all the people and places who fall through the cracks wind up. Richard and Door (the aforementioned young lady) must face treachery, psychopaths, monsters, and London high society in their attempts to avenge Door's family (murdered by said psychopaths) and restore Richard to his normal life. (Did we fail to mention once you're in London Below, no one in London Above can see you? Oh, well now you know.)
Neverwhere is a modern Alice in Wonderland sort of portal fantasy. Much of the humor and tension rest on Richard's not believing (or at least not wishing to believe in) the magic he encounters. He is often a liability to his companions, though sometimes his more mundane personality traits wind up being useful in their quest. There's a sardonic figure called the Marquis de Carabas, who is both vain and wise. There's a mysterious angel called Islington (played by Peter Capaldi in the TV show and Benedict Cumberbatch in the radio play). There's a lot of playing on place names in London. In short, the story is fun, enjoyable, insightful, and touching. If you haven't read it, I suggest giving it a try. Every time I come back to it, I'm reminded of how much I love it.
If you've read Neverwhere and want more, I suggest tracking down a copy of "How the Marquis Got His Coat Back," a novella-length sequel Gaiman released a few years ago. It's available in a number of anthologies, as a BBC Radio adaptation (featuring the TV show's Marquis), and in the appendices of newer editions of the Author's Preferred Text.
(Side note: I have not read the Author's Preferred Text yet, but I'm planning to shortly, if for no other reason than I want to read the story again, not just listen to it.)
Have you read Neverwhere? What did you think? Who are you favorite characters?