Originally, I had planned to follow up Dandy in the Underworld with The Picture of Dorian Gray and Philosophy in the Boudoir to create a trilogy of hedonism and debauchery.
The best laid plans, of course…
I finished Dandy on the Eurostar from Paris to London – an unexpected trip, seeing as I was originally scheduled to take a flight from CDG to LHR the next morning, eventually returning to Philadelphia. Paris, however, wasn’t doing it for me and so, as my friends were leaving for the next steps on their adventures, I fled to that city I love so much. In the fleeing, I realized I needed something else to read. Something fun, something exciting, something that wouldn’t… well, that wouldn’t be hedonistic or debauched or anything like that. I needed something to ground me – and so, having gifted my last two copies, I picked up the slightly-different-from-the-American-edition copy of Neverwhere.
Read this book for the first time a year and a half ago. Literally, started it the night before I left for London… and the end of the prologue has a line about “Richard Mayhew went to London feeling like hell” and boy did I ever feel like hell that day. There was, obviously, an immediate connection between me and the book. That connection was not lessened, returning to the city of my mind over a year after I first left it.
Anyone with an imagination cannot look at London the same way after having read this book. “Mind the Gap” takes on a whole new meaning, the homeless people out the corner of your eye are just maybe something more, and you definitely feel uneasy in Shepherd’s Bush station. Gaiman’s writing is paced to pull you along like a fast current down the Thames and despite some cracks in the novel’s existence – the enemies’ motives (and their disposal) is all a little blurred and hasty – you shrug and just go with it. Richard Mayhew, Door, Hunter – and above all, the Marquis de Carabas – are characters who appear fully formed, fully realistic, and you can’t help but wonder if they’re there, in London Below, having adventures even as we speak.
The book also provides a bit of a history lesson: the British Museum tube stop was a real thing, for example. There are a ton of other bits and bobs of London history thrown in, all of which are at least half-true. The Beast, for example, is (probably) not real… but the myth behind it has some basis in fact. So that’s fun.
I’d like to see the BBC series that Gaiman originally created that then inspired this book – but I think its also pretty clear that this book is the creation he is more proud of. This is a fun book and its merit comes from how delightful an author Gaiman is as well as how easy he makes it to slip into a world of his creating that is like ours… but slightly different. I picked up American Gods while I was in Londontown (have I mentioned how much better their editions of books tend to be? with a few exceptions, of course) and look forward to stepping into that sometime in the near future
Rating: 5 out of 5. This is, quite simply, my favorite go-to London read when I miss that city. It, at times, isn’t much more than your average fantasy novel – but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There’s nothing like good escapism.