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Neverwhere
Neil Gaiman
Avon Books, 337 pages

Neverwhere
Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is the author of one of the most critically acclaimed comic books of the decade, the Sandman series from DC Comics. He is also the author of a collection of short stories, Angels and Visitations, and the co-author (with Terry Pratchett) of Good Omens. His first anthology, The Sandman Book of Dreams, edited with Ed Kramer), was released last year by HarperCollins. He is the creator and author of the BBC series "Neverwhere," which inspired this novel. Born in England, he now lives in Minnesota.

Official Neverwhere Site
Avon Books
Gaiman bibliography from Dreamhaven Books
Angels and Visitations
Heart of the Dreaming (Sandman fan page)
Sandman Links

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alice Dechene

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I started this book sipping coffee by the last rays of a summer evening, but ended it in a darkened room wondering what it means to truly experience life. Welcome to Neverwhere, a dark world of fealty, fiefdom, and the forever dispossessed: a world that, for all of its phantasm and phantoms, is entirely believable.

Richard Mayhew is a productive -- if boring -- member of society. A securities analyst, he steadily plods along in the workaday world of jobs, schedules and relationships that really don't mean very much. It is the world of London Above, the surface structure of the here and now, unaware of the seething depths below.

Into Richard's world steps, or rather stumbles, Door, an oddly gifted teenager fleeing assassins. When Richard stops before her crumpled, bleeding form in an act of true human compassion (thereby ungluing his precariously cemented engagement to the affluent and vapid Jessica), he begins his descent into the maze of lost time and lost places that is London Below. This single moment of human connection drops Richard through the cracks of the structured and scheduled into a terrifying abyss where archetypal incarnations of human nature roam: Beast and Hunter, Torturer and Victim, Savior and Destroyer.

It's here that Richard's inadvertent journey of self discovery begins. Yes, this is a quest novel, but the object is not simply to find a key. It is, more importantly, to discover the true nature of self. Richard -- unassuming, claustrophobic, and afraid of heights-- must plumb his own dark crevices while navigating a labyrinthine microcosm that both crushes and expands the very notions of time and place. And all he really wants to do is get home.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this novel is the development of London itself as a character. The lucid London Above is linked with yet totally oblivious to the roiling chaos of London Below. Only the truly dispossessed (rats, the homeless, the insane, the runaways) can negotiate the boundary between the two. For the Londoner above one false step, one break with the chain of rationally structured events, and the veil lifts, the invisible emerges and the dark chasm of Below yawns. Richard's goal is to clamber back out of the pit of irrationality, dream and danger -- if he can. As Richard explores himself, so too does he unearth every corner of the twin cities. (Mind you, I'm not actually saying ego/id, conscious/unconscious, but you get the picture.)

In case the plot doesn't send you, the writing has moments of sheer brilliance. The bad guys, for example, are really bad, with a laugh that "sounded like a piece of blackboard being dragged over the nails of a wall of severed fingers." Gads, that makes one's skin crawl. Gaiman beautifully orchestrates scenes, fractionally unveiling psychological and physical terrors until the unwary reader totters as unsteadily as Richard on the brink of this terrifying world.

You may have gathered that I really liked this novel. I'll admit I don't know how to classify it: sci-fi, fantasy or psychological thriller. In fact I don't know how to label this at all except to call it very, very good.

Copyright © 1997 by Alice Dechene

Alice is a Contributing Editor to the SF Site. She taught Comparative Literature and French at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1988 to 1994 (give or take a semester). Her time is taken up these days with her two children and the SF Site, both of which are joint projects with her husband.


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