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Merle

Merle

Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman This is one of those books I zip through, only to realize upon completion that the book isn’t actually very good. But since some of Gaiman’s other work has been very well-received, perhaps this just wasn’t the right place for me to start.

As other reviewers have described, Neverwhere is about a young man living in modern-day London, who through an act of kindness toward a stranger gets sucked into the world of London Below, where people live dangerous lives in the tunnels and Tube stations below the city and are nearly invisible to the inhabitants of London Above. He joins a girl named Door and her companions on their quest to find out the truth behind Door’s family’s murders.

In all fairness, this book just wasn’t my cup of tea. First, because it’s essentially an urban-fantasy-thriller; my impression of Gaiman was that he’s a more literary writer—and okay, there’s a Shakespeare reference or two, but this book is still a thriller, with a fast-paced but unmemorable plot consisting of constant rushing about the tunnels of London Below, and characters who are decent and likeable but not particularly well-developed. Second, I didn’t realize that the book was adapted from a TV series, and it reads a bit like a video game: the plot consists mostly of running around and questing after various items, there are lots of tired tropes (the murdered family in the backstory, the mysterious waif with magical powers, the mysterious manipulative villain) and the end is predictable. Silliest was the important plot location that, we’re solemnly informed, can only be accessed “the easy way” once by any individual; the second visit must be via an underground labyrinth. Naturally, this is never explained; do plot coupons, dungeons and boss battles need to be explained? We all understand that the point is to give the player a chance to… but wait a minute, this is a novel, not a role-playing game.

The setting, meanwhile, is an interesting concept but not fully developed; like the protagonist, I feel like I was whisked through a maze of tunnels, but have no idea how to get anywhere and am not entirely convinced they still exist when I’m not there. And Gaiman explicitly raises a lot of questions that are never answered (the magic is never explained at all, nor are any limitations placed on it beyond the requirements of the plot; the villains don’t seem to be human at all, though we’re never told what they are). The parallels drawn between the citizens of London Below and homeless people (“those who fall through the cracks”) are interesting; I’m just not sure that they actually work. After all, the Below-ers are literally invisible to the Above-ers, and there’s some implication that the Below-ers lead more interesting or meaningful lives. On the other hand, part of the point of fantasy is to comment on reality, and the analogies can’t always be exact.

So I didn’t think much of this book, and am not sure if I’ll try a different Gaiman book in the future; but I recognize that it may just be me, and if you’re looking for a quick fantasy adventure (but not necessarily light; it’s gruesome in places) this may be just the book for you.