15 years late, I’ve joined the Neil Gaiman fan club


For even for the most casual observer of book publishing today, Neil Gaiman is something of a household name. He’s an author that seems almost serendipitously ubiquitous–one morning there’s an interview in the New York Times, a week later your friend mentions she loved Smoke and Mirrors, four days after that you scroll past a Facebook status praising American Gods. Nearly a decade ago now, those types of impromptu nudges finally drove me to pick up a paperback copy of Neverwhere at The Strand, and it’s languished on various bookshelves in my apartment ever since.

See, I am, for reasons that elude even me, oddly wary of fantasy books. If I had to guess, I would say it stems from some childhood fear of being nerdier than I already was—for most of my formative years I was rocking glasses, braces and a head of hair that went from bowl cut to rat’s nest before I caught on to conditioner somewhere in middle school. Indeed, those torturous limbo grades can be an unfortunate time for the acquisition of new interests, as one is misguidedly forming Opinions about things just a few years shy of the momentous realization that other people’s Opinions about things matter way less than they seem to. Perhaps I saw a foray into fantasy books—and all the cultishness and costumes and collectibles my 10-year-old self thought that implied—as a bridge too far, a surefire way to limit my romantic prospects to boys with Star Trek t-shirts and Magic: The Gathering cards. Little did I know those boys would grow up to be hipsters and I’d end up dating them anyway.

As a longtime Stephen King fan who resents when he’s tossed off as a “horror” writer, I’m loathe to pigeonhole Gaiman, especially after devouring Neverwhere Harry Potter style this week. He’s written dozens of books, plus short stories and screenplays and a computer game called Wayward Manor. Gaiman is like the Tim Burton of fiction, and all predictable casting decisions aside, I’d never downplay the man who created both Edward Scissorhands and Mars Attacks! as a one-trick pony. But even factoring in the knowledge that I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Gaiman has to offer, it was clear to me from the very first page of Neverwhere that he is an author of intense talent, whose work I’ve been totally missing out on and with whom I may now have to become obsessed.

Neverwhere takes places in London, where Richard Mayhew—a hapless man with a plain life and a lackluster affinity for it—stops on the street to help an injured girl named Door. Before he knows it, Richard ends up a part of Door’s crazy underground universe, London Below, home to “the people who fell through the cracks in the world.” London Below’s connection to London Above is tenuous at best, and Richard must quickly figure out how to survive in Door’s world while keeping a grip on his own (which, after all, has better food and nicer accommodations and fewer deadly adventures). Along for the ride is a memorable cast of London Below-ers, including Door’s femme fatale bodyguard Hunter, the bombastic Marquis de Carabas, and the villainous Mister Croup and Mister Vandemar, a cunning Flotsam and Jetsam duo bent on Door’s demise.

Neverwhere is the kind of book that will make you miss your stop on the train and stay up until 3 a.m. reading, and it manages that addictiveness without the easy pulls of teen romance or elaborately imagined wizarding schools. Moreover, while there are elements of the fantastical in the book—creatures and customs so unfamiliar to Richard as to seem otherwordly—Neverwhere is at its heart a journey, a search for resolution in a universe more chaotic than, but fundamentally linked to, our own. The relationship between London Above and London Below is in many ways one of the most important elements of the novel, more important than the specific logistics of life in London’s sewer system.

Despite ample opportunity to go overboard, Gaiman is a measured and contained narrator. He manages to flesh out London Below without letting descriptions drag on, and the novel’s questing gives it a heavy bent toward dialogue, which is handled wittily and deftly. But Neverwhere is also full of small insights, literary winks that reveal Gaiman for the talent he is, and make the book that much more enjoyable to read: “Richard had noticed that events were cowards. They didn’t occur singly, but instead they would run in packs and leap out at him all at once.” // “The boy had the towering arrogance only seen in the greatest artists and all nine-year-old boys.” // “‘With cities, as with people, Mister Vandemar,’ said Mister Croup, fastidiously, ‘the condition of the bowels is all-important.'”

And if all that doesn’t sell you, I’ll throw in that the last five pages of Neverwhere made for one of my favorite endings of all time. *drops mic*

….*pics up mic* To come this late to the Gaiman party is a bit of a bummer and, frankly, a bit of embarrassment, on par with how I feel about being a Gabriel Garcia Marquez virgin, and never having read Animal Farm. But to discover Gaiman now is also to have a whole bounty of new books at my disposal, a veritable library of semi-parallel universes into which I can dive on a moment’s notice. So I guess there’s a silver lining—one that means I’ll probably never leave my apartment again. Except to wash my Star Trek t-shirt.


TITLE: Neverwhere
AUTHOR: Neil Gaiman
PAGES: 370 (in paperback)
ALSO WROTE: American Gods, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
SORTA LIKE: Harry Potter meets Big Fish meets The Wizard of Oz
FIRST LINE: “The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.”

47 thoughts on “15 years late, I’ve joined the Neil Gaiman fan club”

  1. I think everyone has those “late to the party” discoveries that make them wonder, “why the hell did I wait so long to try this?” George Orwell generally was one of mine too – I didn’t read Animal Farm til this year and I read 1984 when I was about 20 or 21 which seemed a bit later than most people too.

  2. It’s never too late to discover an author. Last year I discovered Ira Levin and quickly read his entire catalogue of work. This year I rediscovered Chuck Palahniuk (I read Fight Club a few years ago)… And if you have to discover an author Gaiman is as good as any other. He is a wonderful writer with an imagination like few others. Gaiman also is one of the few writers who changes directions as often as some change socks. He writes fantastic fantasy fiction (Stardust is my favourite) he creates some of the best graphic novels available and for the little ones he writes stories that adults will love to share with them (Coraline).

    1. “It’s never too late to discover an author” would make for a great t-shirt! Also “It’s ok to hate a classic”

      1. I will take one “It’s alright to hate a classic” in medium. Studying English Literature taught me that ; Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man being a prime example, root canal is more entertaining and a little less painful.

  3. I revel in the nerdery of being a Neil Gaiman fan. I love him so much I’ve even bought his children’s books. I don’t have kids. Whatever. I’m infatuated equally with his wife.

    Neverwhere is fabulous. If I’m not mistaken there’s a movie or miniseries or some sort of something I watched once upon a time…in case you ever feel like delving back into TV land.

    I enjoy your reviews!

      1. It was a BBC mini-series. And, if I remember rightly (although I could be completely wrong, and I can’t be bothered to Google. My bad.) then it was written before the book was.

        And it is awesome.

  4. I often find myself in a conversation saying ‘oh I’ve only read one Neil Gaiman book (The Graveyard Book) it was good’ to get looks of horror and asked why I hadn’t read more, well now I have a good place to start! Thanks

  5. I have also recently picked up a Neil Gaiman novel after YEARS of wanting to read his work but never knowing where to start (I’m already a big fan of episodes he’s done for Doctor Who so I’ve been eager to read his novels) so I bought stardust at a booksellers recommendation and I’m super excited to start 🙂 glad to hear you enjoyed Neverwhere so much, looks like that will have to be my next buy!

  6. I’m glad you enjoyed Neverwhere, and I’m rather jealous you’ve got all these amazing books to look forward to. Although I read Coraline (which terrified me) and The Graveyard Book when I was little, it was not until I picked up American Gods last summer that I properly began worshipping Neil Gaiman. What I love about his books is that although they’re all equally brilliant, they manage this in diffrerent ways. For me American Gods had the best story, Nevrewhere the best setting, Anansi Boys was the funniest, Coraline the scariest. And the only word I can use to describe The Ocean at the End of the Lane is enchanting.

    I have also yet to read Animal Farm. I should probably get onto that.

  7. The BBC did a TV version of Neverwhere, plus a Radio 4 serialisation with the great and good of British broadcasting. It’s one of my favourite books!!

    1. *Tim Burton co-wrote and directed Edward Scissorhands; I was just drawing the comparison between him and Gaiman in the sense that they’re both versatile.

      Just want to make sure that’s clear so I’m not spreading false info! 🙂

  8. Fortunately, the milk.

    The day I swapped my dad for two goldfish.

    The wolves in the wall.

    All wonderfully weird children’s books by him (for younger children than Coraline and the Graveyard Book.)

  9. I came to Neil Gaiman through Terry Pratchett (who incidentally, if you’ve also been avoiding on similar grounds you must stop doing so) and neverwhere was where i started too! It’s one of those books that you’re still thinking about months after finishing.

  10. Better late than never. Now go read ‘Stardust’ and weep at the genius who can write that and ‘American Gods’, ‘The Graveyard Book’, and the Sandman series. He is certainly the opposite of a One Trick Pony, as any one of these achievements would make him an immortal.

  11. Reblogged this on Cogpunk Steamscribe and commented:
    Sometime, you wish you could rediscover your writing heroes, simply for the pleasure of reading their books for the first time. This article is by someone discovering Neil Gaiman … lucky little individual. All the treasure about to fall into that lap!

  12. Well I may have to give him another shot because this one sounds interesting, A friend bought me one of his other novels and I promised I would read it. As such I spent an uncomfortable week slogging through a book that normally should have taken a day by page count. I won’t say which book it was because Gaiman fans are fanatics and I fear they would hunt me down and lynch me. Goodness knows the friend who bought me the book tried! Maybe I am just getting too old for some types of novels…

  13. Those “miss-your-stop” moments might be inconvenient, but they’re brilliant, too. Loved Neverwhere, Stardust, and the Graveyard Book, but still have so many more to look forward too. I’ve started the Anansi Boys and am loving it, and am partway through reading copies of Sandman that a friend’s lent to me, and so far I’ve found nothing to complain about at all.

  14. Neverwhere is great, but my all time favourite is American Gods, I go back to that at least once a year.

    Can I say its never too late to get into graphic novels? His series on The Sandman is second to none, it’s a perfect medium for his imagination.

    Also he retweeted me once. It was a very exciting 12 hours!

  15. So jealous that you get to read this, American Gods and The Sandman for the first time. Wish I could go back and read them with no knowledge of them again, to be blown away again.

  16. Read this fabulous book a few years ago while experimenting with being in a ‘book club’. If you liked Neverwhere, try Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter – gone but not forgotten 😦

  17. I just recently wrote a book review on my first Neil Gaiman book – I chose The Graveyard Book due to it being a Newberry Medal book and it’s my goal in life to read them all (yes, I do have other goals as well…lol). I LOVED it….so I’m eager to check out his other books. Maybe I’ll read this one!

  18. Well don’t waste another 15 years, listen to Neil’s advice* and go read Gene Wolfe! But I am afraid that party is finished, so read his old stuff first. (unfortunately the publishers collected every short story of his and published them in the early 2000’s regardless of quality or merit).

    *: Neil is a big fan of Gene Wolfe, I believe they co-wrote something once.

  19. I started reading American Gods few years ago but could not finish it. I think I should pick it again now.

  20. Better late than never 🙂 I’m not a huge comic book reader per se, but I’ve definitely got to take the plunge and start the Sandman sooner or later. Anything to get more of Gaiman. I love Gene Wolf too. Btw have you ever tried Terry Pratchett? If you like Gaiman I’m betting you’ll step right into Pratchett. He co-authored ‘Good Omens’ with Gaiman.

  21. It’s funny, I had this book sitting on my shelf for years too (6 or 7 of them)! I finally got to reading it last year, but wasn’t as engaged with it as you. Gaiman is an author I so desperately want to love, but just end up liking at the end of every book (I’ve also read ‘Stardust’ and ‘Good Omens’).

    That said, I’ll probably end up reading ‘American Gods’ or ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ anyway. Those seem to be his most beloved books– ‘Good Omens’ aside– and it wouldn’t seem fair to judge him completely on the others.

  22. Kira I just finished this book, which I picked up solely based on your review. I dont understand the love for it. I don’t understand much of anything. Was there some prequel I missed? Something about Atlantis?

    There’s a similar book out there, ‘The City and the City’ by China Mieville. It’s like Neverwhere but gooder, much gooder.

  23. I love Neil Gaiman but most of his books end up disappointing me, since he seems to not be able to fnish them on the proper level. Then I took a chance on “Neverwhere” and thought, okay, he’s now got the whole thing together.
    He’s an amazing author, and the fantasy is less in your face than you can imagine, which helps.

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