By Esin Huseyin ft. Dane Cobain
Today is the day that we finally introduce Maybeldner’s London Book Club; each week I’ll be collaborating with a blogger on a London Book – this week it’s Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. It was my first chance to pick up this book, and it’s safe to say I couldn’t put it down.
This week I’ve got Dane from SocialBookshelves.com who will be taking the reigns from me for a while, keep reading to the end to see my brief comment on the book.
Hello, hello, hello! My name’s Dane Cobain, I’m a book blogger over at , and Esin has very kindly asked me to be your host today.
Interestingly enough, I studied London in Literature as a university module, and so a lot of the titles on the list were of books that I’d already read. But I wanted this to be a new experience for me as well as for the rest of you readers, and so I picked Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere on the strength of my love for Good Omens and American Gods, two of his other works.
I covered what I thought of the story line and the characters in a review on my own site, and so I’ll only touch on them briefly here. Essentially, what we have is the story of a young man called Richard Mayhew, who lives a normal, boring life until one evening, he stops to help a girl called Door who’s in trouble. The only problem is that Door lives in the city’s underbelly, in a sort of parallel universe that’s a lot like our version of London.
Once you’ve been assimilated into the world of London Below, there’s no turning back, as Richard finds out at the start of the novel. London Below is an enchanting but deadly place, where legends are real and where the city seems to take on a life of its own. Key London landmarks like The Angel pub in Islington, familiar to the world through its iconic Monopoly square, are subverted and turned into characters like an angel, called Islington.
Meanwhile, the ever-shifting Floating Market is held in a real world location that you’ll be instantly familiar with, and there’s a constant clash between London Above and London Below which reflects the class war that’s currently (and always) happening in the city.
It’s a testament to Gaiman’s ability as a writer that he manages to subvert the real into the imaginary – for example, there’s an Earl who holds a court – whilst still simultaneously commenting on our modern society and the history behind the city. The vibe in London Below is two parts Dickensian, three parts steampunk and five parts awesome, and you never know what Richard and his friends will run into next.
If you’ve ever walked through London at nine o’clock at night, hitting all of the hotspots from Camden to Waterloo and back through Mayfair, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You’ll struggle to find a more diverse city, whether Above or Below, and the author has done a fantastic job of representing that.
Disused underground stations are often referred to as well, including one at the British Museum which Richard points out doesn’t exist on any tube map of the city. But in actual fact, there is a disused tube station there that once served the Central Line – another example of when Gaiman blurs the line between fiction and reality.
I could go on and on about London Below, about the terrifying Night’s Bridge and the mysterious Black Friars that the adventurers seek out. I could go on and on about London Above, because it’s one of my favourite cities in the world. And I could go on and on about Neil Gaiman, but Esin said she wants her blog back and so I’m going to have to love you and leave you.
For me personally, Gaiman blurs the reality of upper London and the fiction of London Below, often leaving an aftertaste of dark humor and harsh reality of London life. The idea of having an entire city below we’re unaware of isn’t hard to believe when half the time Londoners are unaware of the beauty that London holds.
As Londoners we’re all a little wrapped up in ourselves – take the morning commute for example, we escape in to our own hidden depths blocking out our surroundings with headphones. I mean, we may as well be invisible, like those inhabiting London Below.
The imagery of being able to transport yourself through London through a pathway of linked doors is one that resonated with me; it’s synonymous of London’s rich history, as well as the idea that no matter how big London is – it’s still small enough to reach from A to B.
Floating markets, references to physical places, and the characters all help portray this wonderfully moving story – but for me, it showed me the true colours of diverse London. It taught me to keep my headphones off and to engage with the wonderful city we live in, who knows – I may even find a disused tube station.
Thanks to Dane for joining me this month – please feel free to drop us a comment with any questions or comments you may have. Next month, we’ll be featuring Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.