Well Hello Bookworms,
I am not much of a world traveler, so it may surprise you to know I have, in fact, left the good old USA on occasion. When I was in college, I took a mini-mester in London. It was a two week trip where our instructors traveled with us. We took three hours of class a day and spent the rest of the time sight seeing and rambling around trying not to be overly obnoxious. Not sure that we succeeded. In any case, we were supplied with two week pass to the London underground. Thus, I became entranced with “The Tube.”
The London subway system is a massive network of underground tunnels, like any subway. However, having never used a subway system in any other major city, I found it weirdly romantic and exciting. This is likely because I was commuting to tourist destinations instead of work… I imagine the mystique would fade quite quickly if it were part of your day-to-day routine…
That’s the case for Richard Mayhew, the protagonist in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Richard moves to London from Scotland. After a few years of commuting on the Tube, it’s lost its intrigue. He is concerned primarily with his job and his (rather pushy and unpleasant) fiance Jessica. All is well until one night as they head off to dinner.
Richard and Jessica unexpectedly encounter a young woman on the sidewalk… Bleeding profusely. Richard feels compelled to help while Jessica threatens to break off their engagement if Richard doesn’t continue on to their dinner. (Yeah, Jessica kind of sucks, though she DOES suggest calling an ambulance as they continue on their way, so I guess she’s only medium evil.) Richard, acting on instinct, takes the mysterious girl in his arms and back to his apartment after she implores him not to contact the authorities. Richard finds this a bit suspicious, but after a disturbing run-in with a pair of rather unsavory characters, Richard surmises the girl has good reason to keep a low profile. Richard then accompanies the girl on a strange adventure into another world known as London Below.
This IS Neil Gaiman after all, you’ve got to expect some magic. London Below is situated in the space between subway platforms. It’s in the abandoned stations, the basements, and sewers of the city. It’s where the “people who fall through the cracks” end up. An odd mixture of characters make their homes in London Below. The underworld seems to be disconnected from time as we experience it, so you run into medieval monks as easily as Victorian castaways, the odd witch, and occasional bounty hunter. London Below is also extremely dangerous. Mythical beasts walk around unchecked. Rats converse with humans. Doors appear out of nowhere. Assassins run wild. But for all its strangeness, it’s also fascinating.
Neil Gaiman is a master of the creepy. He blends magic, mythology, and spooky ambiance seamlessly. I love that he chose the London Underground as his setting for this book! I always get excited when books are set in places I’ve been. I mean, it’s certainly cool to visit places you’ve never been in your reading, but there’s something about having a personal connection with a place. Anyway, I believe Neverwhere is my favorite Gaiman to date. Perfect reading for the transition into fall. I recommend it to anyone in the mood for a little bit of an eerie adventure.
Have any of you Bookworms out there enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s work? Have you read Neverwhere? What did you think? Have you ever imagined a mysterious underground civilization hanging out in your city? (It’s okay if your imaginary underground city includes the Ninja Turtles. I know mine does.)