Thursday, 9 July 2015

Lev Butts Reviews Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

This may well be the first book I ever bought
based solely on the cover and author. I didn't read
the summary until I was standing in line to pay.
As you may be able to tell from the previous two entries, I've always been a fan of fantasy. After discovering Tolkien (see last month's entry), I delved into other fantasy series: I read Terry Brooks' Shannara trilogy, Marvel comics' run of the Elfquest series, anything about King Arthur I could get my hands on (more on that later), and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series (see September's entry).

However, in 1996, while wasting time at a local stripmall bookstore in Carrollton, GA,  I came across a book that was listed as fantasy but seemed like no fantasy novel I'd ever read as it was set in modern-day London's subway tunnels.

Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere tells the story of Richard Mayhew, a young Scottish everyman who finds himself drawn into the dark and feudal world of London's homeless when he attempts to save a wounded ragamuffin girl bleeding on the sidewalk. In his attempts to get her back home and discover who murdered her family, he encounters magical bums who talk to rats, meets the actual earl of Earl's Court, and has tea with the angel who destroyed Atlantis.

All while avoiding two antagonists who 
appear to have sprung fully formed from the 
opium-addled nightmares of Charles Dickens
Neverwhere taught me two things about writing: One was that genres can be blended; they don't have to be separated like food on a school lunch tray. In all of Gaiman's fiction, but in Neverwhere, particularly, such blending of genres allows the author to make the mundane magical. In Neverwhere, Gaiman presents what initially seems like a light-hearted, realistic romantic comedy of a man trying to balance his dead-end job with his demanding fiancee, and while this storyline develops steadily throughout the novel, it develops alongside the fantastic tale of a vagabond princess trying to get home and the noir-esque mystery surrounding her father's death.

The second thing I learned from Neverwhere is more technical: one of the easiest ways to inject a sense of magic and wonder into the ordinary world is to ignore metaphors. In Gaiman's world, metaphors are literal: There are actual black-clad warrior monks guarding Blackfriars Bridge. The Angel, Islington, is an actual angel. And you don't even want to know about Knightsbridge.

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