book-reviews

Neverwhere

by Neil Gaiman

Rating: ★★★

Neverwhere is a light and fluffy adventure story set in a sort of Fairy-land London, in which there's an angel in Islington, a smith called Hammersmith, some monks known as the Blackfriars, etc. You get the idea. London place-names writ into characters. Cute. The majority of the fairyland cast is made up of 'people who have fallen through the cracks' -- that is, homeless people, street-walkers, sewer-dwellers. This brings a 'social responsibility' vibe to the book, which it apologises for by including a few jokes.

There is nothing particularly noteworthy about the story. This is a fairytale, after all, and one of the more modern and upbeat ones. A hapless hero rescues a girl and together they go on a quest, where both he and she slay a monster, encountering some characters along the way. The writing is engaging enough that you won't nod off, with a few turns of phrase and observations that bear repeating; Gaiman's style often reminds me of Pratchett. The characters follow an old pattern for me -- the villains are far more interesting than the heroes, an effect mitigated in part by one of the heroes' companions being a bit villainous.

My only real objection to the book is that it felt a bit too much like Gaiman was writing for a GCSE study course -- an impression compounded by the inclusion of suggested reading group questions at the end of the book, which read like essay questions. For high-schoolers, this book might then be perfectly targeted, but personally it struck me as a bit 'young'. While you could call it a strange sort of fairytale, it has none of the strange glamour of, say, The Iron Dragon's Daughter, and while it dances around issues of homelessness it avoids being 'gritty' in its treatment. By the standards of many I've read recently, the book is short, which perhaps contributes to an impression of it as shallow.