Take Me Down, Six Underground (Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman)

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 NeverwhereRichard 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. neverwhere

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.)

53 thoughts on “Take Me Down, Six Underground (Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman)

  1. I do love it when I’ve been somewhere that I see in a book. After visiting Manhattan a couple years ago, it became so much more fun to read (or watch TV) that was set there. I’m all like… I *totally* know that place! (And I loved taking the subway there too. Of course I also love taking the train in Chicago. I really just love public transportation, it makes me wish I lived somewhere I could get around without a car, but I’m sure if I did and I used it all the time it would lose its novelty pretty quickly.)

  2. I loved this book! I actually read it because I listened to the radio play that the BBC did – I’m a sucker for British accents, and since I’ve been told by several people that I need to start reading Neil Gaiman, I figured listening to Neverwhere would be a good way to test it out. I am so glad that I did – I loved the radio play so much, I ordered the book the next day. Can I just mention that Benedict Cumberbatch was an AMAZING Islington, and I truly enjoyed having James McAvoy as my inner voice of Richard as I was reading? If you haven’t listened to it, you may want to consider it.

    Normally, I don’t like to read the books after seeing a movie or listening to a radio play, because then I just get upset about the parts they left out, but not with this one. All of the cuts made sense, and even though I loved the radio play, I loved the book just as much. Of course, having never been to London, my version of London Below looks something like the “T” in Boston – lots of old stations filled with steam and scaffolding, with an additional general layer of sketchiness thrown on top. When I first rode the T, I could totally picture an entire world stuffed under the streets of Boston, and I kept expecting to see something that was built in the 1800′s as we cruised through the tunnels under the city. That’s why I like the idea of London Below so much. We keep building and building on top of our past, so a city of people who fall through the cracks makes perfect sense to me. Something has to end up in those abandoned spaces, and I would certainly prefer a world of people with a floating market and a great beast to be hunted.

    Now I’m off to listen to some Sneaker Pimps, so I can get that song out of my head.

    • That BBC radio play sounds great, I love James McAvoy :) so I’m going to have to look for that. I read this on my vacation this spring and I really enjoyed this book! I wanted to read some Neil Gaiman since I’ve heard a lot about him and I picked this one because it sounded like a lot of fun, and it definitely was. Plus I love books set in London and I agree that the Tube made a perfect setting for the mysterious underground city. Any suggestions for other Neil Gaiman that wouldn’t be a disappointment after this one?

    • Could the BBC GET anymore awesome? You’re totally right, everything is better with a British accent. I’ve never been to Boston- or New York for that matter. Now I want to visit all these places just to check out their subway systems! You know crazy stuff has got to go on there at night- it’s the perfect setting for a creeptastic story!

    • Haaaaaaaaaa! I’d forgotten about that! So, Internet. What happened was when I was about 8 we took a family vacation to Washington DC. For some reason we ended up on the train and it was constantly announcing “blue line train to National Airport” in this weird monotone voice. Giggle fits ensued. Oh yeah. I also basically ate my weight in bacon on that trip. Breakfast buffet.

  3. I haven’t read this one but I love Stardust and The Graveyard Book. There was talk of people living underground in Alice Hoffman’s Story Sisters. The idea is fascinating, but the reality? No thanks, and God bless people who do live like that.

    On the London Tube, did you ever experience the kind of weirdness and ick that people describe happening on the New York subways?

    • Oh yes, that WAS in Story Sisters (though didn’t it turn out to be a story made up by the heroin guy?) I was a college student in London, so my standards of grossness were probably a little skewed, but I remember everything seeming fairly clean and orderly. There were some panhandlers, but they usually weren’t pushy (possibly because we looked broke?) I’ve heard that NYC’s subway smells like urine, but I didn’t get that vibe in London. Probably because England is magic and everything is better there?

  4. First of all, love the Sneaker Pimps reference. Also, this story reminds me of a book I found through bookcrossing.com, Downsiders, by Neal Schusterman (SP?). It was a youth book, about a community of people living under NYC. This one sounds better. And especially when it’s read aloud by the silky voice of James “Anytime, baby” McAvoy and Benedict “I’m yours” Cumberbatch.

  5. I LOVED the recent BBC radio production of this. If you haven’t listened to it, you must at some point.

    I love both the Sneaker Pimps reference (the song is stuck in my head now) and TMNT. I’m afraid that Michael Bay/Megan Fox are going to absolutely ruin the new movie (not that the previous movies were anything to get excited about, but still…).

    • I’ve had the Sneaker Pimps stuck in my head all day. I really should think about these titles before I go spreading earworms… My husband is still angry at Michael Bay for ruining Transformers. He’s all about the 1986 animated movie. Orson Wells did the voice of Unicron, so obviously it’s a cinematic masterpiece. (At least in the opinion of a 31 year old man with a glass display case full of 80s Transformer toys…)

  6. I’m liking the idea of the BBC audio version! I used to love listening to the BBC plays, and I absolutely LOVED the shipping forecast. It’s weird, but you would feel all snug in your house knowing that those sailors were out there in gale force winds off Finnistera. Or wherever.

    As for the Tube, yes, it does lose its magic when you start commuting. But I miss public transport, as crazy as it was. I found that knitting on public transport gave you more room–for some reason, people gave you a wide berth. I don’t know if it was because they thought I was weird for knitting, or that I was basically armed. Either way, it worked for me!

  7. Sounds pretty creepy but London does have quite a history. Remember Whitechapel and Jack the Ripper. Having spent some time there I enjoyed riding on The Tube. Much better than the LA freeways. Nobody’s gonna shoot you on The Tube although you might get robbed by some skinheads. Think I will get the book.

    • We were warned about pickpockets on the Tube, but luckily we had no trouble. (Again, we were college students with very little worth stealing…) I’ve never been to LA, but I wouldn’t want to drive on those freeways. They sound insane!

      • Unfortunately that’s the only way to get around LA. The blue line and the red line are a joke; take you to anywhere you don’t want to go. Metrolink is better but expensive unless you travel on the weekends. Good for going down to Orange County and San Diego though.

  8. Not only was this my first Gaiman, but it was the first book I ever reviewed on my blog! I loved it…and I think Croup and Vandemar might be some of the CREEPIEST villains ever.

  9. Neverwhere is the first Neil Gaiman book I ever read, and I think it is actually still my favorite. When I was in London, I bought a copy of Neverwhere (this may not be true anymore but it was then: the British edition of Neverwhere had scenes in it that weren’t in my American copy of the book) and read it while riding the Tube. It was lovely.

  10. I agree with everyone about the BBC production, it was amazing! The actors were so wonderful, espcially James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch. I loved it so much I got the book because I had been wanting to read something by Neil Gaiman and I already loved the story. Now trying to figure out what to read of his next….

  11. I love reading about places I’ve been, too — it adds a bit of magic to places and shows them to us in a new light. I’ve read other Neil Gaiman books before but not this one. I love the sheen of magic that he pours over basic reality, but I have to be in the mood for creepy. London Below sounds super creepy.

  12. I bet I would like this Gaiman too… maybe. Cause he is hit or miss with me, but it sounds good!

    ALSO, the London Underground in this book sounds exactly like the Nightside in Simon R. Green’s Nightside series (underneath London, always the same time there, mythical and magical happenings of all sorts and varieties). I wonder if one influenced the other? Eeeeeenteresting.

  13. Now if someone would write a really creepy book on Las Vegas I’d be a truly happy man. There’s enough ghouls insistently passing out porn massage parlor flyers on the sidewalk around the strip. Maybe they could put in a few characters based on gangsters buried out in the desert and suddenly arising from their graves ;-)

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