Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, is a young adult magical realism novel. The main character, Richard Mayhew, struggles with his job and overbearing fiancee–who symbolizes parents/authority. He stops to help an injured girl, Door, and is plunged into a fantasy world underneath London. He follows Door on a quest to discover who killed her family. He meets mythical creatures and has supernatural experiences. The entire time he is trapped in London Below, Richard longs for his old life. When he is finally returned to London Above, he finds he has changed. In the end, he is given a way back to Below.
This novel is a classic coming of age young adult book. It is also an excellent example of magical realism. The definition of magical realism states that the story must have a blurred line between realism and the supernatural that is part of daily life. It also must have shifts in time and space, as well as a journey that uncovers a different truth about the world.
While in London Below, Richard encounters much magic. He meets Rat Speakers and attends Floating Markets that move locations every night. He is new to a world where residents interact with the supernatural every day. Occasionally he visits London Above while he is with Door, and the world never looks as he remembers it. It is eerily empty, or some structure is missing. Door herself is practically London Below royalty. She has inherited the power to open a gateway, or door, to anywhere she wants to go. Door symbolizes the pathway for Richard to adulthood.
When Richard first sees Door, bleeding on the street, he stops to help her. The next day, he is invisible. He loses his job and watches as his apartment is rented out to new people as if he never existed. This symbolizes the adolescent stage of life when a young person wants to be an adult but is not yet treated as one. On the quest to locate the angel Islington, Door and Richard go to the British Museum in London Above. They locate the Angelus, and Door opens a gateway to Islington’s underground home. Near the end, when Richard is returned to London Above, his life is waiting for him as if he never left.
During the quest, Richard must participate in a test of character. Door and her bodyguard, Hunter, have already won tests of intellect and strength. Richard’s ordeal greatly changes him, causing him to lose most of his self-doubts; he is now confident enough to interact with other beings of London Below. When he returns to London Above, he finds that his experiences have changed him so much that his job and friends mean little to him–he has become an adult and left them in childhood.
Although Richard is an adult by age in this book, unusual for Young Adult novels, his experience is one that clearly resonates with the readers in this age group. This novel is a good example of magical realism as opposed to fantasy. All the magical elements include a shift in time or space, or have some symbolism relevant to Richard’s awakening adulthood.