Book review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Posted March 15, 2011 by Heather in Book Reviews / 5 Comments

Book review:  Neverwhere by Neil GaimanNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Published by Harper Perennial on September 2003
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Source: my shelves

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Richard Mayhew is a young man with a good heart and an ordinary life, which is changed forever when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. His small act of kindness propels him into a world he never dreamed existed. There are people who fall through the cracks, and Richard has become one of them. And he must learn to survive in this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London that he knew.

(from the back cover)

I actually finished reading this last week, but it didn’t make a huge impact on me, so I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what I would like to say about it.  Let’s start with the stuff that I definitely liked about it…

Neil Gaiman’s imagination is definitely one of a kind.  In Neverwhere, the people who “fall through the cracks” are homeless people and/or people who don’t necessarily fit in with society.  Their world is London Below, an entirely different world that exists below the streets of London.  The people and places Gaiman came up with to fashion and populate this world are fantastic.  The places in London Below are named after actual places in London Above, but the names are very literal in the world below, which makes some of them very funny and others pretty scary.  There are also some times when the two worlds come together which I found pretty amusing.  I definitely liked all of the characters (even the bad guys).  Every one of them is so well defined—by their actions, their thoughts and the things they say—that I had a great mental image of them all.  Richard Mayhew, the protagonist, is definitely my favorite of the bunch.  His natural, empathetic tendencies end up getting him thrown into the kind of situation that he could never have imagined possible, and the way he handles it—or doesn’t handle it, as the case may be—is pretty hilarious.  All he wants to do is go back home, but because he’s one of the people who has fallen through the cracks now and doesn’t really have a choice in the matter, he has to go through all of this crazy stuff that he really isn’t emotionally, psychologically, or physically equipped to handle.  He makes these mental diary entries a few times throughout the course of his journey that literally made me laugh out loud.  In fact, there were quite a few parts of the book that made me laugh, as well as quite a few parts that completely grossed me out (Mister Croup and Mister Vandemar are absolutely disgusting).

Now comes the stuff about Neverwhere that I felt was not so great.  This was Gaiman’s first solo novel, and I think that shows.  The only other book of Gaiman’s I’ve read is American Gods, and I definitely thought that book was a more solid read.  Neverwhere is good, but it’s purely entertainment.  I’m not saying that a book that’s purely entertaining is a bad thing, but I tend to enjoy books more if they give me something to think about, either while I’m reading them or after I’ve finished.  With a book like Neverwhere that doesn’t necessarily make me stop and think, there are a couple of questions I ask myself to determine whether or not I thought the book was really good:  Am I going to miss the characters when I’m done reading?  Do I wish the book could have gone on longer (or even become a series)?  As much as I liked the characters, I didn’t form the kind of strong connection with any of them that made me feel like I was going to miss reading about them when I was done.  When I had read the last page and closed the book, I was okay with that.  I didn’t find myself wishing that I could have read another hundred pages or wishing that Gaiman would come out with a sequel.  In fact, I’ve thought very little about it since finishing it a week ago.  The only thing I’ve been thinking about is how to put this all into words for a book review.  I had many of the plot twists figured out before they were revealed in the book and I think there were a couple of ideas/situations within the story that could have been more fully developed.

All in all, I would say this is a decent book.  The characters and the world Gaiman created are great, and his imagination is fascinating.  I enjoyed reading it the first time, but it isn’t a book I would pick up for a second read.  I just don’t think it was blow-my-mind-I-have-to-read-this-again-someday kind of good.  This was his first solo novel, as I said before, and very few people end up writing something mind-blowing the first time around.  I would still recommend it to teenagers or adults who enjoy a good fantasy, but I would suggest borrowing it from the library or from a friend the first time you read it, just in case you decide it isn’t bookshelf worthy.

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Note: In no way do I intend for this review to be reflective of Neil Gaiman’s work as a whole.  As I mentioned, the only other book of Gaiman’s that I have read is American Gods and I thought that book was very good.  I have many friends who are huge fans of Gaiman’s work, which inlcudes books, comics, audio, films and theater.  I will definitely be reading more of his books in the future.

(Click here to learn more about Neil Gaiman.)

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  • I’m not so sure about this book. I’ve heard great things of the author and this book too. I just can’t get myself into reading it. Thanks for the great review though. You do make me thing about it. 🙂 Thanks!

  • He really is a great author. I cannot stress enough the originality of his imagination. I just think that maybe the types of books he writes aren’t necessarily my cup o’ tea, if you know what I mean.

  • Definitely a fair review – and I actually love the book. Everything you totted up as a negative, I actually agree with, but I’ve read it multiple times. I just enjoy London Below and everyone there in all of their predictable glory. If you enjoyed American Gods you shoul check out Anansi Boys. Not exactly a sequel, but a spinoff.

    • I also loved London Below and all of the characters. I read “American Gods” as part of a global project this guy did on Twitter called “1 Book, 1 Twitter,” and “Anansi Boys” was mentioned by the Gaiman fans quite often throughout the conversation. That is the next Gaiman book I’ll be reading. Thank you for the comment and the recommendation.

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