Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

★☆☆☆☆ (1/5)

“This,” announced Richard to the world, in direct defiance of the evidence of his senses, “is not happening.”

Very rarely have I been this anxious to finish a book, write a review and get over it once and for all. This was my first read by Gaiman and it saddens me to say that I was gravely disappointed. The beginning caught my intrigue but towards the middle I found it supremely tedious to be attentive to all the details Gaiman pushed my way. By the 15th chapter or so, I had completely lost my patience and lost hope for a redeeming element which might rescue this story for me. The last five chapters were a struggle to get through.

There are little pockets of old time in London, where things and places stay the same, like bubbles in amber

“Neverwhere” is a surprisingly boring fantasy novel which follows the protagonist Richard Mayhew who, after an inadvertent act of kindness, is pushed into the realms of London Below – a world cloaked from ordinary eyes where monsters, knights, angels and murderers, earls and noblemen live. Richard along with a bunch of bizarre characters traverse the underground realm, a dimension wholly invisible to those who live in London Above, to acquire a key, exact revenge upon those who killed Lady Door’s family and slay the infamous Beast. Lady Door can magically unlock doors and find doorways where none exist, Hunter is an ancient assassin whose sole purpose of life is to defeat the Beast and the Marquis de Carabas has avowed to protect Lady Door.

Door fixed the earl with her look: there was something more ancient and powerful in that glance than her young years would have seemed to allow

What persistently annoyed me were the shocking off-hand remarks which were casually brushed away or utterly ignored by Richard regarding his ordeal. As a character, Richard was vacuous in his appeal as the protagonist. No heroic value or traces of heroism have been attributed to him, yet by the end he emerges as Warrior of the underground. He wasn’t inquisitive enough to understand what he was experiencing. He remained aloof throughout the adventure which lent him an air of stupidity. Who wouldn’t be more curious as to why they were invisible to residents of London Above once they had been to London Below? He did not inquire after the history of the underground world, how things came to be here, nor did he express more shock at what were clearly surprising, life-altering turn of events.

His mind was too numb to make any sense of where he was, or why he was here, but it was capable of following the rules

I did not care for the trials and tribulations the characters were going through, which by extension implies that I did not care for the characters at all. I wasn’t anxious to find out if Lady Door would be successful in exacting revenge upon the killers, neither did I vouch for Richard to be returned to his previous life. All the characters simply seemed to be caricatures set in a highly fantasised setting. I wasn’t interested in knowing more about the Angel Islington, his history with Atlantis, nor did I find the two mischief makers Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar any more fascinating than a white-washed wall. Had the characters any depth, I might have felt some level of empathy for them in their endeavours. But alas, it was not to be.

He was learning, awkwardly, to trust his instincts, and to realize that the simplest and most likely explanations for what he had seen and experienced recently were the ones that had been offered to him—no matter how unlikely they might seem

The style of imagery was very insipid and even managed to infuriate me at times. Some were positively cringe-worthy. For example “Ruislip, the Fop’s opponent, resembled a bad dream one might have if one fell asleep watching sumo wrestling on the television with a Bob Marley record playing in the background.” And again “The marquis de Carabas tossed the figurine to Mr. Croup, who caught it eagerly, like an addict catching a plastic baggie filled with white powder of dubious legality.” At another instance Gaiman writes “She had a remarkable scream: it could, with no artificial assistance, go through your head like a new power drill with a bone-saw attachment. And amplified . . . It was simply unearthly.” How is a power drill going through one’s skull an “unearthly” experience?

The story left me with too many unanswered questions especially regarding the backstory of how the Underground and all its residents came to be. Why could only Lady Door and her family possess the special powers to unlock doors? Why did the Beasts’ blood give Richard navigational powers? Why was Hunter downed by the beast in one go when throughout the story she was praised for being supremely clever and powerful?

The knowledge was a part of his dreams; it surrounded him, like the darkness. So the day became one of waiting, which was, he knew, a sin: moments were to be experienced; waiting was a sin against both the time that was still to come and the moments one was currently disregarding. Still, he was waiting.

By the end, the book left me completely deflated. The world building wasn’t as evocative as I had hoped for, the villains weren’t half as threatening as they were posed to appear, and many plot points and twists were easily decipherable way before they occurred. A horde of characters were introduced only to never be alluded to again and nothing substantial ever happens for me to feel concerned about. Overall, this was a tremendous disappointment and I can’t wait to move on to a better book.

Some nicely crafted sentences:

  • Afterward he remembered only the feeling that he was about to leave somewhere small and rational—a place that made sense—for somewhere huge and old that didn’t
  • A noisy, dirty, cheerful, troubled city, which fed on tourists, needed them as it despised them
  • Richard had noticed that events were cowards: they didn’t occur singly, but instead they would run in packs and leap out at him all at once
  • And then they set foot on Night’s Bridge and Richard began to understand darkness: darkness as something solid and real, so much more than a simple absence of light. He felt it touch his skin, questing, moving, exploring: gliding through his mind. It slipped into his lungs, behind his eyes, into his mouth…
  • Old Bailey remembered when people had actually lived here in the City, not just worked; when they had lived and lusted and laughed
  • Violence was the last refuge of the incompetent, and empty threats the final sanctuary of the terminally inept
  • But the most important thing for you to understand is this: all things want to open. You must feel that need, and use it.
  • He felt odd: detached, and depressed, and horribly, strangely saddened

7 thoughts on “Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

  1. Same here. Neverwhere wasn’t such a great read for me too. My first Neil Gaiman book was “American Gods” and I loved it. Now I think that my expectations weren’t really helpful as well as the great reputation of Gaiman. In my case the german translation lacked humor and sense for popcultural-references, but it seems that most reader weren’t really happy with the book despite the transcription. The story is a bit too simple – like something we saw thousand times in movies and other books and always know whats coming. Unfortunately.
    Surprisingly the audiobook with Nathalie Dormer, James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch is fun at least. Of course it cannot fix the plot holes and mediocre story, but it serves the characters well.


    • I’ll be giving Gaiman another chance this year. Which book should I go for? Neverwhere was horrendous. We read it for the book club and there wasn’t much to discuss. I think it settled well with his fans but for a first Gaiman read it was quite disappointing.


      • Maybe ‘American Gods’?? I liked it very much. Much more than Neverwhere. The story had more substance because of its references to culture, immigration and religion. And maybe the human nature in general. The tv show seems to be even more drastic.


      • Nooo unfortunately I didn’t 😥 But there’s going to be a show too, right? Don’t think that I will be fast enough to read the book before it arrives. Well … maybe it’ll be available in Germany later than UK or elsewhere. You read it?

        Yes! There is one season of ‘American Gods’ already and it’s probably even better than the book. But really brutal.


      • I haven’t but I’m planning to read other books from authors that gravely disappointed me last year. So Gaiman is on the list. A challenge per se “Changing Perceptions” reading challenge.


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