Neverwhere: The Author’s Preferred Text by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell (book review)

November 21, 2017 | By | 3 Replies More

This edition of ‘Neverwhere’ is a republishing of Gaiman’s 2015 ‘Neverwhere Authors Prefered Text’ edition with a minor difference. All right, it’s a huge difference. This one has been illustrated by UK Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, but the text remains the same as the 2015 published edition. Before discussing the illustrations, let’s consider ‘Neverwhere’. The publishing information on the inside cover says the original version was first copyrighted in 1996 and this version in 2005.

We can thank the author as there’s an ‘Introduction To This Text’ where he explains how and why this definitive edition of ‘Neverwhere’ came to be. It’s basically an amalgamation of all the various versions of the text with a judicious bit of editing. While this is very interesting, it doesn’t mention the illustrations, so I think it’s the same introduction from the unillustrated 2015 edition. That’s a shame as I would have liked to have known what Gaiman thought of Riddell’s illustrations.

Anyway, for those new to ‘Neverwhere’, which was originally conceived as a television series for the BBC, tells the tale of Robert Mayhew who gets dragged into the London Below. It seems there is a different world below the streets of London. A place where the people who fall through the cracks of London Above end up. As the text on the inside front cover says, ‘It is strangely familiar and utterly bizarre. It all starts for Robert when he stops to help an injured girl.

One moment Robert is a perfectly normal young man with a good job and a girl-friend with very rich parents. Before he can comprehend what happening, he’s plunged into London Below with a life expectancy of about 10 minutes, if he’s careful. This sudden change is brought about because the injured girl he helps is from a powerful family who reside in London Below. In helping Lady Door, as she is known, Richard fades out of London Above. He just ceases to exist in the normal world.

Of the many things you can say about London Below, one of them would not be its normal. Time, distance and people are completely different. The place has existed for thousands of years and largely clings to the medieval theme. There are clans, guilds, baronies and fiefdoms which are all on the lookout for themselves. Someone like Richard, who’s completely alone, are an easy target for any of the established groups.

Luckily for Richard, the Lady Door takes pity on him and he joins her group. What’s not so lucky for him is that a pair of extremely good killers are currently trying to finish Door off. It would complete that task they were set to wipe out Door’s entire family. Discovering who is behind the massacre of her family is the only thing driving Door. Apart from Richard, there is the enigmatic Marquis de Carabas and the famed bodyguard Huntress making up Door’s intrepid party.

One of the things I really liked about ‘Neverwhere’ is the play on words which usually involve London locations. Shepherd’s Bush, Earl’s Court and The Angel, Islington are three good examples but there are plenty more. You don’t need a good knowledge of London as most of the places touched upon are very well-known. Quite a few can be found on an original version of the Monopoly board game.

There are some very good plot twists in ‘Neverwhere’ which makes it rather difficult to discuss the story in detail. Most of the people have their own agendas which complicates things. Richard stands out as his agenda is clear and simple: survive and get back to normal life. It’s just that most of the people he meets are trying to either rob or kill him or both. There is a good ending. In fact, there are two endings but you will have to read the book to see what I mean.

Finally, let’s get to the illustrations by Chris Riddell. To put it simply, I thought they were superb. To my untrained eye, they seem to be drawn in charcoal which makes them so complimentary to the text. Sometimes the text overlays the illustration so you only get a glimpse of it around the margins. The text fills in the missing pieces so you can grasp what the full illustration would have been. There are some full-page illustrations which are very well drawn and will enhance your mental picture of London Below.

I find it hard to understand why Gaiman hasn’t revisited London Below as there’s such a wealth of characters to write about. The additional short story at the end of the book titled ‘How the Marquis Got His Coat Back’ sort of proves the point. It introduces yet more new characters and will leave you wanting more.

To me, this really is the definitive version of ‘Neverwhere’. The illustrations really are the final polish making this a book worth getting even if you have read an earlier version of the story. Get it for yourself and get a few other copies to give away as presents. Well worth the money

Andy Whitaker

November 2017

(pub: Headline. 435 page illustrated small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-472253-3435-3)

check out websites: www.madaboutbooks.com and www.headline.co.uk

Category: Books, Fantasy, Illustration

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About the Author ()

I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties. My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

Comments (3)

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  1. avatar Julian White says:

    There’s also the Vertigo adaptation of the earlier novelisation, collected as a graphic novel and published in 2007. Definitely worth a look.

    • avatar AndyWhitaker says:

      Thank you for the pointer Julian and I will certainly take a look. It will be interesting to see if there are any differences in the story.

  2. avatar Gaspode says:

    Robert Mayhew … you do turn him back to Richard in the later parts but he’s Robert for a good while in this review 😉 ….

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