Alice in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass were two of my favorite books when I was growing up. I fell thoroughly and deeply in love with the books’ delicious nonsense and I can’t say I ever really got over it. To this day there’s nothing that delights me quite so much as a story with imaginative, unrealistic elements. Illogical impossibilities such as talking animals, spaceships, impossible travel, gods, monsters and conscious machinery? Sign me up, I can’t get enough of it.
Recently I listened to the audiobook version of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and I realized just how deliberately Neil Gaiman is following in the tradition set by Lewis Carroll. His hero, Richard Mayhew, falls into an underworld version of London and his adventures there reflect the wordplay and delirious sense of fun of the original Alice books. Gaiman consciously echoes the Carroll’s language, talking about how many impossible things Richard had believed before breakfast. (I’m paraphrasing, I don’t have the book in front of me.) Revisiting London Below inspired me to revisit Wonderland and I’m very very glad I did. This is a marvelous book, justifiably celebrated as a classic, and I find it every bit as inspiring as an adult as I did as a child.
This review is for the audiobook version of Neverwhere, read by Neil Gaiman. Neverwhere is one of my favorite novels. The sheer inventiveness of it makes my brain fizz over with happiness.
Richard Mayhew, a Scot living in London, helps an injured girl named Door and is drawn into the world of London Below, a city that exists in the mystical margins of London Above, peopled by the people who fell between the cracks. Like Alice in Lewis Carroll’s books, Richard is forced to face a series of impossible events that he is barely able to cope with. Door’s entire family has been slaughtered and she is being stalked by Croup and Vandermar, supernatural assassins (and seriously among the best villains ever created). She needs to find out who is after her and why before Croup and Vandermar can finish her off. For anyone who has ever looked at a London Tube map and marveled at the names, Neverwhere is a particular delight as Neil Gaiman’s vivid imagination turns various tube stop names into real things. We have an Angel named Islington, an Earl’s Court (a medieval court housed in a train carriage that travels the Underground, presided over by an Earl), actual black friars. These delights only scratch the surface of all the delightful improbabilities of London Below. It’s not a place I’d want to live but it is an amazing place to visit.
I already loved the book before downloading this audiobook version but hearing Neil Gaiman read it made me fall in love with it over again. Who knew that Gaiman was such a good reader? He does a great Scottish accent for his hero Richard Mayhew and gives marvelous life to his delicious villains Croup and Vandermar. I highly, highly recommend checking the audiobook out.