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!