Book Reviews

Book Review : Neverwhere

Neil Gaiman’s  Neverwhere takes the reader on a playful trip through a fantastical world that exists beneath our feet. I am not familiar with Gaiman’s entire catalog, having only read American Gods and Neverwhere, but it was quite obvious to me that this was one of his earlier books. The concept behind the story and the possibilities it opened up initially violently grabbed my attention and and held it fast. However, as the story progressed, the flat characters, moments that were silly for the sake of being silly, and lazy writing dulled the edge of my interest. I feel like with another rewrite and a little more aggressive editing, this book could have been something special. In the end, though, the story was interesting enough to keep me reading, and I would be comfortable recommending the book to anyone interested in a unique blend of myth, light-hearted story telling, and urban fantasy.

NeverwhereThe Cover:

I found the cover to be bland and boring. It is a simple image made somewhat difficult to properly view by the use of only three colors: green, yellow, and white. Based upon the cover alone, I would have quickly discarded this book and moved on to something else.

The Bad:

1. The writing itself in the book often struck me as lazy and sometimes amateurish. I came across multiple sentences that employed “had  had” as well as copious amounts of commas and the word and. If I recall correctly I came across a sentence when seven instances of the word and in it. While not really incorrect, these sentences could have easily been rewritten to look and read much cleaner. Additionally, some of his descriptions struck me as things that I would read while grading a high school creative writing assignment. “It had been like watching  Emma Peel, Bruce Lee, and a particularly vicious tornado, all rolled into one and sprinkled with a generous helping of a mongoose killing a king cobra.”

2. The characters were boring, cliché cookie cutter characters. Richard is your average bumbling hero, a la Arthur Dent. After him we have the magical teenage girl out to solve the murder of her family, the sexy and self confident badass hunter, and the witty rogue of questionable loyalty. The only characters in the book I really enjoyed were the two most present bad guys. They were comfortably evil and their general demeanors were quite amusing, unfortunately they were not enough to prop up the rest of the cast.

3. The ending was painfully predictable  and the book finishes with little more than a whimper.

The Good:

1. The setting for the story is quite interesting. Beneath some large cities, an “under city” exists, in this case, London Below. These under cities are filled with magical people who have fallen through the cracks of the city above and cease to exist there. All of the denizens of London Below have some kind of magical or supernatural ability, ranging from the mundane to the miraculous.

2. The pacing and storytelling was done well enough that, despite the quirky grammar and run on sentences, I was able to immerse myself in the book. While the story was not immeasurably unique, and I was not left with a book hangover after I finished; I felt like reading Neverwhere was time well spent.

The Meh:

1. Gaiman’s Britishness is pretty prevalent in the book, and I tend not enjoy overly British things. This is not an exceptionally bad thing, but more of a personal taste. And I have to admit I feel a bit silly griping about it—the book is set in London after all.

Synopsis:

Richard Mayhew is just your average, slightly-bumbling guy. He’s got a nagging fiancé and a fairly run-of-the-mill existence. While on the way to an important dinner date one night, a filthy and bloody girl suddenly appears in the street before him and his fiancé. Jessica demands they ignore the girl, but Richard simply can’t. She refuses to go to the hospital so Richard cancels his date with Jessica and takes the girl to his apartment. The girl, known as Door, heals miraculously overnight, and shortly afterwards leaves Richards care, but just after she’s gone Richard discovers that he doesn’t seem to exist anymore. In order to reclaim his life he will have to set off into the bowels of London Below, where he will encounter Velvets, Sewer Folk, Rat Speakers, and even an Angel.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review : Neverwhere

  1. I’ve never really understood the cult following behind Neil Gaiman. I’ve read three of his books and I haven’t been totally hooked. Like you, I always enjoy the story, but there is ALWAYS something missing. I might still read this one because you said some things that caught my interest. : )

    • I have similar issues. I’ve got a few friends who rave about him and love everything he does, but the limited exposure I’ve had to him has done little other than make him feel like an excellent story teller, but a mediocre writer. Part of me wonders if it is due to the fact that he works across multiple mediums. Telling a story via a TV episode or a comic book seems like it would be much more forgiving to me than telling the same story via book (I’m sure its just as challenging, but in a complete different way that uses a fairly different set of skills). I enjoyed American Gods, but the story felt so drawn out and full of unnecessary bits and pieces to me, kind of like a machine with a bunch of superfluous parts.

      I’m glad my review could be helpful to you and if you read Neverwhere I hope you enjoy it just as much, if not more, than I did. 🙂

      • I haven’t read American Gods, but I know it’s his most popular book. I did read Ocean at the End of the Lane because I thought surely it was worth everything that people were saying, but I had the exact same feelings as usual. I agree that he’s a wonderful storyteller, fabulous imagination, but the plot elements just don’t fulfill themselves in a very thoughtful way, I guess. I know people loved his episodes of Dr. Who too and I can attest to the strength of his graphic novels, but his novels, eh. I just hope he writes something with the depth that I want. I really wanted that in Ocean at the End of the Lane and I think he escaped the depth I wanted by making the characters so young. It was good in the fact that it could connect to its audience because it was about childhood nightmares, really.

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