Friday, 2 March 2018

Pages: 'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman

I always forget how much I love fantasy until I pick it up again and with 'Neverwhere' it felt so real and contemporary I just couldn’t get enough. Neil Gaiman can be thanked for some of the best storytelling known and 'Neverwhere' is definitely a part of that. 

Before the move to London from Scotland an old woman prophesies that Richard Mayhew, the protagonist will find adventures that ‘starts with doors’ and that is exactly what he gets when he finds a girl strewn across the pavement, as he walks towards a restaurant with his uptight girlfriend Jessica later in the novel. The girl begs them to take her somewhere safe, anywhere but a hospital and Richard obliges, leaving Jessica to continue the evening without him. 

The next morning as we find out more about the girl, named Door, two ageless assassins appear at Richard’s door looking for her and it becomes clear that London is not the same anymore.  Richard unknowingly entering the realm of London Below and changing his life as he knows it, pulled into joining Door’s quest to find out why and who murdered her family alongside some intriguing characters. 

Within 'Neverwhere' folk tales and myths all wrap up within this absurd realities of London so that everything seems so real and plausible. The development and journey into a London we are not familiar with slowly takes over until you cannot imagine it any differently.  The city becomes a labyrinth as their journey takes them across London, split by ‘The Floating Market’,  a travelling market warm with vivid characters, smells and interest in famous spaces it occupies. Gaiman disorientates the reader as one of the world’s most famous cities turns into a mystical land. There are mentions of other cities within Neverwhere and I can only imagine how incredible a series within these ‘below’ cities could be with the intertwining of each locations folklore and landmarks. 

It is not just locations that take on new faces, London’s districts become characters in themselves with the Angel of Islington, Earls Court and Hammersmith (just to name a few) becoming characters embraced in connection with a place. Angel of Islington being an actual Angel and Earls Court becoming a court. 

With this each character is full of intricacies and detail that it feels like Gaiman has drawn them, picturing them so vividly that they could take on their own story. Croup & Vandemar, the ageless assassins dialogue matched their forms like theirs words kept the shape of their bodies, which combined with Chris Riddell’s illustrations made London Below seem more and more plausible.   

Riddell’s illustrations add so much to the text, crawling out of paragraphs and integrating with the novel, Velvet ladies softly peering from the creases and rats tails curling round as they follow the quest. Combining these incredible illustrations with Gaiman’s vivid writing meant that when I listened to the Radio 4 play (Neverwhere [Adaptation]) of 'Neverwhere' I felt like I had already heard their voices.

Seeing 'Neverwhere' created in so many different formats shows the versatility of London Below and the stories created there. 'Neverwhere' started life in TV but what came back into the novel was the detail, connection and intricacies that only text can create. I could easily spend longer in London Below, after listening to the play in one sitting and being so excited to find the short story ‘How The Marquis Got His Coat Back’ I should probably get my hands on the TV series. 

'Neverwhere' brings a new life to London, bringing stories to objects and places I would usually just walk past.  As I finished 'Neverwhere' I realised that the world and especially London seemed a little different to when I started. It was refreshing to think for the first time in a long time about the magic you can find in the mundane, and I cannot thank Neil Gaiman enough for bringing that back to adults through literature and his work. 

In this world we need an escape and Gaiman’s intelligent absurdity in urban fantasy is the perfect one. 

Get this edition of Neverwhere: the Illustrated Edition here.

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