Neverwhere is a feast, a bonanza, a treat, a graffiti-covered dreamscape, a road-trip on a tube, a hymn to the forgotten, a love song to London. I dig it.
Neil Gaiman (of Sandman or Stardust fame depending on your sub-culture selections) has, in this book, created a hectic urban fantasy adventure set in and starring London Below. This is a parallel version of good old London town, where all the people who fall through the cracks – the homeless, the odd and the fantastical – live, with the Underground as a sort of gateway. If you’ve ever ridden about on the Tube for any period of time it’s probably crossed your mind to wonder who the Earl of Earlscourt was, or what the Black Friars were up to, and Gaiman runs with this idea to build a world that’s strange and familiar and exciting and dangerous. The hero, Richard, is a normal bloke who is dragged into the world of London Below by an accidental visit from the Lady Door, fleeing two sinister gentleman, one of whom eats pigeons. The why and the how of this event is the beginning of Richard’s trip down Below, where he meets such interesting people as the Marquis de Carabas, Old Bailey and the fierce Hunter searching for the great Beast of London.
I have recommended this book to many people who are not fantasy readers in general, and it’s a hit across the board. It’s a particularly satisfying read if you know London at all, because trying to guess the next move and what sideways version of a well-known place the characters are off to now is great fun. But even without knowledge of a Tube map it’s a story with heroes, villains, monsters, Marquises (well, one), ravens, rats, chases and SFCs (Strong Female Characters). Everything you need for a hella good read.
I’m going to provide a little extra option here as well. There’s a companion BBC TV version of this made in the 90s which I wouldn’t bother with. It’s got a great cast, but the setting and the characters are so interesting and huge in the book that it’s just painful to sit thinking wrong, wrong, wrong. The book and the series were made at the same time, so perhaps I’m being too harsh on it, but there is a version I strongly recommend and that is the 2013 radio adaptation, also BBC, also all-star, but with the heavy bonus of audio that the makers can leave the sets blank to be filled in by your own imagination.
So, this evening you have a choice of reclining in an armchair with your eyes shut, or reading a trusty hard copy while sipping on a glass of light and fruity Beaujolais. This is actually one of the wines I drink most often, so perhaps it’s the comfortable feel of both it and Neverwhere in my own personal habits that I’m matching up, but the flavoursome notes of a beaujolais seem to mirror something of the flamboyant Marquis de Carabas, one of the brightest stars in this particular world. On the other hand, if you really want to get into the spirit of London below, feel free to neck some hard spirits, but chapter 2 is worth reaching.
Book: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Pair with: Beaujolais