Klavan On The Culture

Novel: Neverwhere

I’m not a big fan of fantasy novels.  I want to like them—I like the covers—but somehow the minute I get to the first character named something like Argon of Goodweald or Brax the Trog, I lose interest.  I can sit through a movie like that happily enough, but a book takes a lot more time and effort and I want it to somehow resonate with life, real life, my life.

But there are, of course, exceptions.  For one reason and another, I recently found myself reading two children’s books by the popular fantasy author Neil Gaiman:  Coraline and The Graveyard Book.  I thought they were both terrific and actually think Coraline might be a classic (by which I mean a book that will be read after everyone alive when it was written has died.  As opposed to, say, an essentially crappy rock song still occasionally played in elevators).   So I thought I’d try one of his adult books.  Couldn’t get very far into American Gods.  Then picked up Neverwhere.

Neverwhere had its start as a BBC television series that aired in Britain in 1996.  I lived there at the time but never got into it.  The book is an adventure story set in the magical London Below, which is in the underworld of the London tube.  The plot is powered by a series of imaginative puns on the names of underground stops.  So, for instance, there’s an angel at Angel, a dark bridge at Knightsbridge (Night’s Bridge) and so on.  The hero, Richard Mayhew, is a rather classically hapless Englishman who gets swept out of his dreary life into a world of enchantment and danger after he helps a refugee from this magic world.  Gaiman later adapted the series into a novel.

And it’s delightful.  A very pleasurable, sometimes funny, sometimes moving read with some very fine moments.  The first half is especially good and so’s the ending, but it’s fun throughout.  Plus, unlike so many British novelists, Gaiman manages to get through the entire story without one surly remark about Margaret Thatcher.  The book wasn’t as superb as Coraline, but it certainly made me want to see if I could find some other novels like it: novels that go outside the realm of reality while still somehow remaining emotionally relevant to our lives.  Feel free to leave suggestions.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t tried Neverwhere, I recommend it.