Paranormal Novel Review: Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Harper Collins, 386 pages

This isn’t a traditional ghost story such as I usually review. This is more of a ghost-as-metaphor-for-the-forgotten-ones story. But that’s actually a quest I seek in the ghost stories I read, the yearning that drives one to cross barriers and struggle to connect.

You’ve wondered, I know you have, what would happen if one day you went left instead of right, if one day you stopped because a street person asked for your help. I’ve wondered. In Gaiman’s book we find out: we go to Neverwhere. So goes our protagonist Richard Mayhew. Great name that Mayhew—as in just maybe he may hew a new future for himself. He could use one, too.

As the novel opens, he’s in a sort of thralldom with a loveless, social climbing fiancée—everything he is not—until said time when he answers the call from a forlorn, bloodied girl named Door. Not surprisingly, she can open any door, and Richard follows, as he is now erased from his former aboveground life. He finds himself in Neverwhere, an underground parallel world in which rats are revered and evil lurks along every dark, devious tunnel and Neverwherians can see us but we cannot see them.

I joined a discussion group over at Stainless Steel Droppings, so we’re going to review this novel in parts. Check it out here. For this week’s discussion, we read chapters one through five. I chose the following question to respond to: What ideas or themes are you seeing in these first 5 chapters of Neverwhere? Are there any that you are particularly drawn to?

As I said before, I am drawn to the idea of the outsider, the little match girl gazing into the room with the hearth blazing and the family gathered. To me, that’s what the ghost or other otherworldly creatures represent. I also think writers are ghosts of a sort—watching, looking in. The observers.

In addition to the outsider motif, in Neverwhere I find myself contemplating themes of chance meetings, seized (or missed) opportunities, roads not taken. Or in the case of Richard Mayhew, the road taken. What if you hadn’t gone out with your friend who introduced you to your life partner? What if Friar Lawrence hadn’t been such a bumbler, and Romeo had received the message in time? I think of that movie Sliding Doors or the two endings of The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

What if Richard hadn’t helped Door? Because of that chance meeting, what doors will Door open for Richard in the future?

It’s worth thinking about.

I invite you to read Neverwhere along with me. It’s not too late. We just started!


Paranormal Novel Review: Neverwhere — 14 Comments

  1. I’m loving this book so far. It’s dark and magical at the same time without being depressing, which makes for an amazing reading experience!

    • I so agree, Grace! I try to avoid gloomy and excessively violent paranormals. Neverwhere has its grim moments, but the author handles them with dark humor. Have you read The Graveyard Book?

        • I think you would like it. It contains some of the same sweet, magical scenes you admire in Neverwhere as well as Gaiman’s wry humor. The tone is a little more sunny though.

  2. You definitely need to read The Graveyard Book, Grace! Maybe I’ll host a group read of it for the RIP Challenge. I seem to read it every year now in the fall. Love that novel.

    Richard is in a really interesting position when the book opens (after the prologue). Perhaps one of the most scary parts of the book is the relationship he is in and the road he is traveling down with Jessica. His professed “love” for her is so unconvincing for the reader and you are left wondering if Richard is that oblivious or if he just has that much low self-esteem that he will be dragged along on any old road. And as we leave him at the end of this section of the book it appears that in some way he has just traded one journey where he had no control for another one. Although I know how everything turns out, I look forward to contemplating that as I re-read the next two sections of the book.

    • Count me in for a group read of The Graveyard Book!

      I like your comment, Carl, about Richard as a character not in control. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. Perhaps that will be his character arc–to seize control of his destiny. Even at the end of this section, I see him taking baby steps toward directing himself.

      • Yes, I’ve always seen Richard as rather pinball-ish, at least at the start of things. I will talk more about this at the end of our read. There are things that I really identify with when thinking of Richard, and not all things that are positive. He causes me to do self-examination whenever I re-read Neverwhere.

  3. Hi Deb,
    I right away thought of the “road taken” type theme when I started reading Neverwhere, too. As fearful as I was when Richard helped Door and became exposed to London Below, I never doubted that it was the right path for him. His road taken with Jessica had mistake written all over it. Perhaps his road through Neverwhere will be the best thing that’s ever happened to him. Can you tell I’m such the optimistic romantic? 😉

  4. That’s always how great adventures begin, isn’t it? The right turn instead of the the left, the stopping to help someone you might have otherwise ignored. And we never know the significance of that moment until later. That pops up quite a bit in Neverwhere, and I love it 🙂

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