Review: Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was wading through another book, trying to ignore the pandemic in fiction, and the next thing I knew, I was in a bubble bath and rereading Neverwhere. I’m not sure how it happened; I just know it was right.

Neverwhere is a modern fairytale. Not a retelling or modernization of a fairytale, which has gotten very common, but an actual, real fairytale of the modern era. It is something you utterly new that also feels as roomy as a well-worn coat.

It also may be the best book for these uncertain times.

Neverwhere follows Richard Mayhew, a man who is remarkable only for the utter ordinariness of his life. But he is kind, and helps a stranger in need. Doing so, however, tips him out of the London he knows and into the bizarre and untamed London Below, a place for those who fall through the cracks. He finds himself on a quest, and there are evil henchmen, angels, a wizened earl and his court, temptresses, giants, and more. Everything is tinged with a feeling of not-quite-unease; it’s like what you know, but something is off, a popcorn kernel stuck under the gum, something to worry at. It’s engrossing, and the prose is peak Gaiman cleverness.

I found it reassuring, because no matter how bad it got — and woof, it got bad — I felt Gaiman tugging me along to the ending, and trusted that everything would turn out okay. When the real world feels so uncertain, it was lovely to be swept away to a magical world and to be so assured that it would be all right in the end. It’s a brain break, but not the drunk-on-a-beach kind of brain vacation. It’s more a thoughtful-conversations-in-a-pub sort. The kind you don’t always realize you desperately need.

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