The hidden world of London Below – Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I’ve not been here for quite a while, as day to day life has kept me busy. While I have been reading continuously, I just haven’t had a chance to write about it. Having an hour or two free on an afternoon that looks to turn thundery, it’s good to get back in the saddle.

I first saw Neverwhere, when it was adapted in the late 1990s for the BBC in the United Kingdom. I liked the idea of there being another London, London Below, actually sharing the same physical space as the place we see in the waking world. Without spoiling the story for anyone who wants to read it (I would recommend it), it revolves around Richard Mayhew in London Above, the city everyone knows, and an act of kindness that pushes him into contact with the other London and a dazzling array of strange but very detailed characters. Once this has happened, he becomes essentially invisible in London Above, and in danger from two of my favourite evil characters, Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar. These people, if you can call them such, have been around for centuries. In their pursuit of the Lady Door, they end up at Mayhew’s door, and are not convinced by his protestations of innocence.

Another of Gaiman’s nice touches is that many of the places familiar from a map of London appear as through a mirror darkly, i.e. beware the Black Friars. Old Bailey is another great character, and funnily enough, since listening to an audio adaptation, in my mind’s eye, I see Bernard Cribbins – how could it be anyone else?

This is a world of talking rats, floating markets, and angels. What struck me about London Below was just how hostile many of the inhabitants were to Mayhew. There was very little sympathy, or even empathy. Mind you, life down there looks brutal, and an altruistic worldview would probably get your throat slit sharpish.

There’s a lot to take in in this book, from alternate realities to resurrection, and a great deal of treachery. Very little is ever what it seems, and almost everyone / everything has an agenda. I found it to be an outstanding read, and very hard to put down. In this, it is like just about everything else that Neil Gaiman has written. It has parallels with “American Gods”, where we are shown “behind the curtain”, and travel with people who have an entirely different perspective to our own. If you have an evening or afternoon free, I would suggest you find a copy of this, and dive in.

First line: “The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself”

Last line: “And they walked away together through the hole in the wall, back into the darkness, leaving nothing behind them; not even the doorway”

Favourite character: Difficult to choose, but most likely Old Bailey.

Rating: Spellbinding (5/5)