I read Coraline many moons ago when I wasn't really sure which way up I was, let alone what I was actually reading. It was unsettling as fuck. The button eyed mother through the goddam wall. Yikes.
Reading Neverwhere feels like Neil Gaiman grew with me - he has created an adult Coraline to match my now (kinda) adult self. There was the same sense of unease, the same different familiarity, the same alternative and bizarre reality but with a slick sophistication crammed with delicious details.
I goddam loved this. I officially heart Neil Gaiman. His portrayal of an altogether different London operating beneath the streets of the existing city was perfection. Mr Gaiman has a wonderful, enviable imagination.
Richard Mayhew leads a boring, sad little life in London going about his boring, sad little business under the thumb of his ambitious and controlling fiancée and trapped within the four walls of his depressing apartment. Until he meets Door - a girl from an altogether different London - when he stumbles across her lying, bleeding on the pavement. He makes the decision to scrape her up and come to her rescue, inadvertently throwing himself into the strange and frightening world of London-Below, an alternative reality where the rats are bowed down to, nightmares are sold on market stalls and there is a life-or-death-necessity to mind the gap. Richard finds himself drawn into a quest filled with danger, surprises and possibilities and eventually discovers that he is in fact much more than a boring, sad little man stuck at a boring, sad little office job day-in, day-out.
The characters populating Neverwhere are outstanding. This is how you write fantasy. It's no good trotting out a bunch of poorly fleshed out stick figures with a couple of surprising facial features and a penchant for throwing supposedly witty one-liners around. Gaiman has created real people. His characters are bold, unique and full of life. I love them all - the good, the bad and the ugly. And Gaiman doesn't shy away from the ugly. Some of his descriptions of bloated corpses, gruesome murders and evil deeds are kinda sick-making but still with that almost fairytale quality and with a very black sense of humour, the book never felt heavy.
The twisty-twists and the turny-turns were surprising and delightful which made what could have been a boring trudge through the sewers, listing things, into a bright and refreshing story of courage, friendship, betrayal and hope with lots of eating the heads off small creatures, torture and death-by-spearing. The villains were satisfyingly villainous and the heroes, after much fantastic character development were wonderfully heroic. Richard began life rather bland and blah but I very much enjoyed his transformation from meek-follower to man-seeking-more.
I feel like I should say something about Neil Gaiman's comment on modern society and the way it is satirised in his descriptions of the startling differences and but at the same time, similarities between London-Above and London-Below. But I won't.