Avon (November 1, 1998),400 pages
Inspired by my friend Cecille’s obsession over Neil Gaiman, I decided to give Gaiman a second try. My first Gaiman book was The Sandman Book of Dreams, which I unfortunately wasnt able to read through. No wonder, she said, because I had to read some other book first before reading that. Several years later, I find myself on a bookshop with Cecille, after a mini high school reunion, and she fished it out of the bookshelf and insisted that I add this to my reading list. Thank you, Cecille. This has been one of the best book purchases in my life. It just took me 3 days to finish the book. And just right on time, I was on a layover in London when I was in the heart of the novel. Im, normally not a fan of fantasy books but this one is absolutely a fantastic masterpiece.
What if in the bustling city of London, there was an entirely different dimension/world directly beneath it? Yes, even further below the Underground. London Above(the one we know) and London Below (where the story is)
“Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart,” reads the synopsis at the back of the book. And thats exactly what the main character is, just a regular guy with a good soul. With a nagging girlfriend. On their way to a dinner with his girlfriend’s boss, they stumble upon a filthy bleeding girl crumpled on the sidewalk. His girlfriend refuses to give attention to what looked like a homeless beggar. But our good man Richard picks her up, all blood and dirt, and tries to save her, much to girlfriend’s chargin. And that’s where Richard’s “Richard in wonderland” adventure begins.
The homeless girl turns out to be Door, a girl from London Below , who has the special power of opening doors, and providing doors when necessary. Her family was brutally murdered by Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. She is now being hunted by these two, and when Door ends up being in London Above, Richard becomes her “clueless?” protector and also gets dragged down to the dimension below.
They wore black suits, which were slightly greasy. slightly frayed, and even Richard, who counted himself among the sartorially dyslexic, felt there was something odd about the cuts of the coats.They were the kind of suits that might have been made two hundred years ago. The lines were wrong, and so were the grace notes.
‘A fox and a wolf’, Richard thought, involuntarily. The man in front, the fox, was a little shorter than Richard. He had a lank, greasy hair, of an unlikely orange color, and a pallid xomplexion; as Richard opened the door, he smiled widely, and just a fraction too late, with teeth that looked like an accident in the graveyard. “A good morrow to you sir,” he said, “on this fine and beautiful day”.
“Ah. Hello,” said Richard.
“We are conducting a personal enquiry of a delicate nature as it were, door to door. Do you mind if we come in?”
“Well, its not very convenient now”, said Richard. Then he asked, “Are you with the police?”
The second of the visitors, a tall man, the one he had thought of as a wolf, his gray and black hair cut bristle short, stood a little behind his friend, holding a stack of photocopies to his chest. He had said nothing until this moment–just waited, huge and impassive. Now he laughed, once, low and dirtily. There was something unhealthy about that laugh.
“The police? Alas,” said the smaller man, “we cannot claim that felicity. A career in law and order although indubitably enticing, was not inscribed on the cards Dame Fortuna dealth my brother and me. No, we are merely private citizens. Allow me to make introductions. I am Mr.Croup, and this gentleman is my brother, Mr. Vandemar.”
They did not look like brothers. They did not look like anything Richard has seen before. “Your brother?” asked Richard. “Shouldnt you have the same name?”
“I am impressed. What a brain, Mr. Vandemar. Keen and incisive isnt the half of it. Some of us are so sharp,” he said as he leaned in closer to Richard’s face, “we could just cut ourselves”. Richard took an involuntary step backwards. “Can we come inside?”, asked Mr. Croup.
“What do you want?”
Mr. Croup sighed, in waht he obviously imagined was a rather wistful manner. “We are looking for our sister,” he explained. “A wayward child, willful and headstrong, who has close to broken our poor widowed mother’s heart”
Richard looked down at the paper. It said:
HAVE YOU SEEN THIS GIRL?
Beneath that was a photocopy-gray photograph of a girl who, looked to Richard, like a cleaner, longer haired version of the young lady he had left in his bathroom. Under that it said:
ANSWERS TO THE NAME OF DOREEN. BITES AND KICKS. RUN AWAY. TELL US IF YOU SAW HER. WANT HER BACK. REWARD PAYED.
It was definitely the girl in his bathroom. “No.” he said, “I havent seen her, Im afraid. Im sorry.”
Mr. Vandemar, however, was not listening. He had raised his head and was sniffing the air, like a man smelling something odd or unpleasant.
“You will tell us if you see her,” he said.
“Good-bye,” said Richard. Then he closed the door and locked it. And, for the first time since he had lived there, he attached the security chain.
Mr. Croup, who had cut Richard’s phone line at the mention of the police, was starting to wonder whether he had cut the cord or not. Twentieth-century telecommunications technology was not his strongest point. He took one of the photocopies from Vandemar, and positioned it on the wall of the stairwell. “Spit!” he said to Vandemar.
Mr. Vandemar hawked a mouthful of phlegm from the back of his throat and spat it neatly onto the back of the handbill. Mr. Croup slapped the handbill hard unto the wall, next to Richard’s door. It stuck immediately and hard.
Mr. Croup turned to Vandemar.”Do you believe him?”
They turned back down the stairs. “Do I hell”, said Mr. Vandemar. “I could smell her”
Just typing that part makes me want to read it all over again. With irresistbly interesting characters such as the jolly (but dont be fooled) Marquis de Carabas, Iliaster, and the filthy but helpful Rat-Speaking people, Hunter, (who I always imagine as Grace Jones or a dark Angelina Jolie) and of course, the root of all this mayhem, The Angel Islington.
Hollywood should invest in this and make another fantasy movie. I wont say it would be greater than The Lord of the Rings or H.P for this is entirely different, but I can only imagine what a great blockbuster this would be. Sort of like WILLOW and NEVER ENDING STORY.
I found out that there’s been a “Neverwhere” Mini-Series produced in 1996, but it didnt do justice to the book.
This is a classic, and in the future, far far future, when my child reaches the age of reason, I will FORCE him to read this.
Neil Gaiman is a living Tolkien.