Lately, I’ve been having a lot of trouble really getting into reading. I’m not sure if I’m not making the time, or if I’m simply not all that interested in what’s on my bookshelf. Last month, I read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and I had hoped that it would cleanse my palette and get me ready for summer reading.
I’ve heard lots of great things about Neil Gaiman’s books; they’re supposed to be great for getting readers into science-fiction and fantasy. I’m on board with fantasy — I devoured the Song of Ice and Fire series, after all — but I also wanted to read this because Neil Gaiman is a tremendously vocal supporter of libraries.
…I really wish that I had liked this book. I give it a half-hearted three out of five stars.
In all fairness, the synopsis for Neverwhere on Goodreads is true to the story:
Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.
Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.
Never mind that Gaiman doesn’t call the world below Neverwhere (it’s called London Below in the novel itself). I had two primary issues with this book: style and lack of depth.
I’ve read a lot of books. Many types of fiction, narration, rhetoric, and prose. Perhaps Neverwhere is similar to Gaiman’s other work (this is the first novel of his that I’ve read), but he employs some techniques that I’m not a huge fan of stylistically: lack of formatting. Gaiman uses paragraph breaks gratuitously, but switches between scenes and between London Above and London Below with no warning. Gaiman being a well-reputed author, I assume that this is a conscious choice rather than one of sloppiness, but I found the story very difficult to follow along with, and while I’m sure his style is indicative of a deeper metaphor regarding separation and togetherness of worlds, it’s out of place in this novel. I should also note that I think this book would benefit tremendously from first-person narrative throughout, rather than a mix of semi-first person and third person.
My second, and major, issue with Neverwhere is what I perceive as lack of depth (spoilers begin here!). Much of the book is spent establishing Richard Mayhew’s life before Door enters it, and his adventures with Door seem rushed. Details are included haphazardly — why do I need to know extensively about an umbrella that never comes back into play? Why does how Richard meets Jessica matter all that much? I want to know about Richard’s developing relationship with Door. Is it truly intimate? Is it friendly? Older-brotherly? What sort of trials do they meet aside from the assassins and the angel? What the heck is going on with Door’s power? I wanted more depth, description, and richness of London Below, and a more satisfying description of why Richard was there, how he left, and what happened when Richard ultimately returned to London Below.
Ultimately, I think that this story suits an entire series more than a novel. Gaiman never really gets around to telling the story — he sets it up, and it ends abruptly.