Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

July 14, 2016

A special illustrated edition of the stunningly original and brilliant first novel from a storytelling genius.

Under the streets of London there’s a world most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, and pale girls in black velvet.

Richard Mayhew is a young businessman who is about to find out more than he bargained for about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his safe and predictable life and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and yet utterly bizarre. There’s a girl named Door, an Angel called Islington, an Earl who holds Court on the carriage of a Tube train, a Beast in a labyrinth, and dangers and delights beyond imagining…

And Richard, who only wants to go home, is to find a strange destiny waiting for him below the streets of his native city.

I’ve always considered Neverwhere to be the granddaddy of modern urban fantasy. Thinking about all the excellent books I’ve read since I started The Eloquent Page, I’m sure there are many who owe their genesis to Gaiman’s masterwork. Books like The City’s Son by Tom Pollock, Sixty One Nails by Mike Shevdon and A Darker Shade of Magic by V E Schwab are all uniformly great and all tap into that same sense of magic and wonder. Originally published back in 1996, I still have fond memories of Neverwhere blowing my mind. Twenty years later and a new edition is being released. London Below is back, and the good news is that it is better than ever.

Re-reading a book I read decades ago is always a bit of a strange experience. I’ll admit a part of me had forgotten that there are just so many fun characters to rediscover. Yes, the villainous duo of Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar are still personal favourites. They are still so magnificently oily and loathsome. The Marquis de Carabas still raises a smile. Richard and Door’s burgeoning relationship is still handled perfectly. But there are many characters I had completely erased from my memory. How in the nine hells did I forget Hunter and Lamia? Old Bailey? Sheesh, I must be getting old.

As with my favourite urban fantasies listed above, the cityscape almost becomes a character in its own right. London Above and London Below are the flip sides of the same mythical coin. London Above seems drab, grey and uncaring while London Below is vibrant, exciting and alive. I enjoy visiting London Above, I take the chance to go whenever I can, but I think I’d give just about anything if I got the opportunity to visit London Below. Who wouldn’t want to visit The Floating Market?

You’re probably asking yourself “Why should I bother buying a new edition of Neverwhere, then?” As I mentioned earlier, the book has been around for decades and you’ve probably read it at least once. The quick answer is that there is plenty of new content to discover. This new edition features Neil Gaiman’s preferred text. This version is also illustrated. (Take it from me, these images are worth the purchase price alone). The drawings by the current children’s laureate, Chris Riddle, are utterly sublime. They perfectly capture the tone of the novel and the bizarre denizens of London Below. Dotted throughout the narrative the sketches are sometimes full size, in other instances they appear in the margins. It makes turning each new page a little adventure all of its own. If that wasn’t enough, there is also an alternate prologue with Croup and Vandemar, a short interview with Neil Gaiman and a short story featuring the Marquis de Carabas. Talk about icing on an already perfect cake.

The thing that pleased me most? That this particular book has aged so terribly well. I always worry that when you got back to a favourite read years later it will seem horribly out of date. No such concerns in this case. I guess the best fiction really is genuinely timeless isn’t it? Revisiting Neverwhere I found the story to be as fresh and captivating as it was all those years ago.

More often than not, once I’ve finished with a review copy of a novel, I pass them onto a local charity shop; space being at a premium on the bookshelves of my little house. Not so in this case. With this edition of Neverwhere, I am going to be entirely selfish. This is getting pride of place in my collection.

Neverwhere – The Author’s Preferred Text is published by Headline and is available now. No self-respecting book nerd is going to want to miss out on this one. It’s a thing of subtle beauty.

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