Friday, 29 October 1999
Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere (1996)
Review number: 375
The television series on which this novel is based was not greatly liked by critics; a little strange, for it was one of the more innocative pieces of TV science fiction/fantasy to be shown for a long time. Most SF on TV, from Star Trek onwards, is rather backward looking, reflecting ideas that were new and interesting in written works over a decade earlier. Neverwhere , on the other hand, starts from an interesting idea. Having a fantastic world which is around our real one but beyond our perception in some way is not a new basis for a fantasy novel - it is hinted at in parts of The Hobbit, for example - but to equate that fantastic world with the lives of the urban homeless is a bold stroke.
This background enables Gaiman to subtly shame the viewer/reader for the way that most in our society ignore the homeless; no one is more invisible than a beggar in the Strand. It also gives a gritty realism to London Below, to contrast with the rather fanciful personifications of tube stations found there (the angel, Islington; the earl who holds court on a train; the black friars).
However, this came over better in the original series, which was incredibly well designed. The book version seems rather thin on plot by comparison. Without the direct images from the screen, the suspension of disbelief becomes harder, and some parts of the story become a little too reminiscent of Gaiman's comic book background (the exaggerated violence of Croup and Vandemar, for instance).
Neverwhere is a worthwhile novel, but the TV version is better.