Dec 2, 2010

Review: Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil GaimanI don’t usually read genre fiction, but I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I can’t tell you how horrified I was when I realized this meant I’d have leave the lit/fic section at Borders. I never browse those middle shelves. I approached them slowly, only after giving the fic/lit section a quick go-over. That way, the shelf-monitors would know that I really do refined taste. Terrifing, those genre shelves were. What if someone thought I was looking for a cowboy romance?

Fortunately, the shelf-monitors are (probably) imaginary. Besides, if they came over to judge me, I’d just explain to them that I’m trying to be less of a book snob, and trying to work some good stories into my reading after a long spate of dour Southern fiction. I’m sure they’d understand.

Less fortunately, Neverwhere was about enough to scare me back to Flannery.

Richard Mehew is a 20-something with a boring job in London. He’s relatively satisfied with his life, but has a niggling feeling that he could be more fulfilled. One day, he sees an injured girl in an alley. Richard helps the girl, and in doing so is cast into her life of terror and adventure in underground London.

The girl is the last surviving daughter of a ruling family. She has magical powers. (She can open doors. Locked ones. As far as magical powers goes, this doesn’t seem very spectacular. In fact, it reminds me of The Fluppy Dogs. I don’t think that’s what Gaiman was going for.)

Richard and Door (That’s the girl’s name. Door. Sensible.) travel through London Below to avenge her parents and right the wrongs of the world. They meet and lose traveling companions, and after a few characters disappear, you get the feeling that everyone’s expendable. When Richard and Door (spoiler alert) start to fall for each other, I could think was, uh, weird. Where’d that chemistry come from? I got the impression that Door’s a teenager, and Richard’s in his late twenties. Icky.

First, if I were writing a book about a magical world beneath London, it would be called Under London. Way rolly-off-the-toungeier than London Below. Second, have you seen my basement? It’s terrifying. It’s dark and old and you can hear my neighbors walking around and you get the distinct feeling that you’re about to be whisked off to Suburbs Below, and it’s not going to be pretty.

This book prevents me from doing my laundry.

Yes, it’s exciting enough to keep my clothes dirty, but in a very strange way. All of action happens externally. It feels more like you’re watching a movie than reading a book. All of the scenes seem like they were written to be pretty set pieces. If J.K. Rowling wrote about Herrod’s being turned into a magical gypsy bazaar, you’d feel like you were there. The way Gaiman writes it, it feels like you’re watching the Christopher Columbus-directed HP. There was no character development, just whoopsie daisy, average guy becomes hero, look at that neato building.

All I could think through out the whole book was: This would be a great movie. A really fun 80s puppet masterpiece. Davie Bowie could be in it. He could play…we’d write him into it.

I felt much better I did some digging and found out that this book was, in fact, based on a movie. Yep. It’s a novelization of a BBC miniseries. At least my instincts are right-on.

I don’t think this will be my last Gaiman, though. I considered complaining to him on Twitter. I guess I should have known better, since I took films based on his books as recommendations. I feel a little tricked, though. I don’t think this book stands on it’s own without the miniseries. I’d like to give Gaiman another chance, and I might check out the BBC version. I always thought this story would make a great movie.

Read if:

  • You’re not afraid of your laundry.
  • You loved The Labyrinth or The Tenth Kingdom, and you always wished there was a novelization.
  • You’re having trouble making the difficult transition from television to the printed word.

How do you feel about novelizations? Have you ever been tricked into one? Do you have any Neil Gaiman recommendations?



  • I haven’t read this particular work, but if this is your first foray into Gaiman, he’s definitely worth another shot.

    American Gods was quite good, and, if you’re feeling more in a Douglas Adams-y mood, he and Terry Pratchett wrote the enjoyable (albeit slow-to-start) Good Omens together.

  • […] months, I’ve picked up books from a few different genres, and it’s been refreshing. (Which I’ve said before.) For a while, I would only read tried-and-true classics, but I think I’ve missed out on some […]

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