Neverwhere Book Review

neverNeverwhere, 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.


Magical Realism


I have long been a fan of authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Laura Esquivel, and Jorge Luis Borges. The way they thread supernatural and even magical elements into normal daily life, and treat them as expected events, speaks to me in a special way. In addition, readers have suggested that my flying horse books remind them of magical realism. As you can imagine, that made me beam! So when the opportunity presented itself to take a class in writing magical realism, I jumped at it. One of our first assignments was to mimic “The Wave,” by Octavio Paz, and show a love story with an inanimate object. Here is my story.

Lifelong Love

“Do you remember?” It’s how all our conversations begin these days. The washer and dryer hum in the background, and remnants of our shared past crowd around us in the garage. I sit in your driver’s seat, as I’ve done for more years than I want to count.

Deep within, you rumble, coming to life a little more slowly than yesterday, affirming our shared memories.

“When we met I was looking for something else,” I begin.

“A Cabriolet,” you scoff. “Probably pink.”

“Don’t judge,” I scold softly. Then I tease, “I did have a friend with a pink Tacoma.”

“A Tacoma is not a real truck,” you say, “and she was not a real friend.”

You’re right about both, but that’s not a memory I want to relive.

I was young and foolish when I first saw you. I’d been shopping for my first brand new car, and I’d never considered a truck. But you were more than a truck. All gleaming chrome and black steel, you towered over the other vehicles. And you looked right at me. I was lost. I always loved the bad boys.

Every time I turned the key in your ignition, we shared a new adventure. You took me soaring over the mundane, our love at one with the clouds. On the ground, we raced past those who struggled alone. Our strength was in being together. You gave me confidence.

“How do you feel?” I ask now.

“Everything’s rusting or seizing.” There’s a new creak in your voice that says more than your words.

Back then I washed you every week, changed your oil every three months, and took you in for scheduled maintenance. The rest of the time, you took care of me. Each time I slipped into your cab, I came home. It was more than the leather seats. I belonged. Now it’s my turn to care for you.

“Do you remember?” I ask softly. “When you used to whisk me away at the end of a hard day? When we sailed the ocean and flew over the mountains?”

You don’t respond.

As the years passed, we slowed together. With you I watched sunsets in the middle of the day and drove through moss-laden forests on the way to the grocery store. Life settled, but it was never commonplace.

Recently the sick times have been more frequent than the healthy ones. Each time you stay at the shop, I’m scared, both for your health and because I am alone. The mechanic takes good care of you, though, and you always come home refreshed and like new.

But now, you’re not so easy to fix. For awhile now I’ve hidden my concern from you. Somehow, though, I think you know.

“Will you remember? When I’m gone?” Your voice is barely a breath.

“Hush, you’ll feel better tomorrow.” I try reassurance, but you know me too well and don’t answer.

Our latest adventures are memories and dreams. Less active, maybe, but no less pleasant. I sit in your cab and close my eyes, and we are together, reliving old trips and taking new ones. This time it’s me who takes us to the lake of the beautiful sunsets.

“I love you,” I say.

You don’t respond.

I place a hand on your steering wheel, on a spot worn from my fingers. Maybe a trip around the block? Surely that would do us both some good. The mechanic said not to drive you, that your engine could seize completely. But I don’t understand the appeal of rusting and dreaming in a garage. I want to live with you again.

I put the key in your ignition. It jiggles, loose from wear. Your radio plays, my favorite station as always, and I bask for a minute. The starter grates as I turn the key, and you barely cough. The second time, nothing. Slowly, with great dignity, you carefully set me on my feet and dissolve into dust.

I curl my hand around your key.