Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (Book a Week 12)

Escapist fantasies take many forms: superhero books, scifi stories, swords and sorcery tales, and romance novels.  They don’t all do the same things, but they can scratch the same itch. Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere has something in common with Chuck Palaniuk’s Fight Club they both follow pushovers, bored and worn down by the world they submit to and they both tell exciting, violent, and unpredictable yarns.

It’s probably a good thing that we don’t walk around punching dudes in the face everyday, but that doesn’t mean we all wouldn’t like to take a little less shit.  Neverwhere‘s main character Richard Mayhew takes a lot of shit.   He gets it from his fiancé, his colleagues, his boss, even his boss’s secretary.  The story gets rolling when he finally defies the wishes of his controlling fiancé by helping an injured vagrant (your typical manic pixie adventurer from a parallel world). From there the curtain comes up and the show is on.

Mayhew escapes.

Here I would like to pause and define a term.  I worry that someone is going to read “escapist” and think less of the work.  On the contrary, escape is only possible in a fine work. It implies a level of engagement on the part of the reader that a poorer story can’t hope for.  Neverwhere is as rich and tempting, as Jasmine from the Aladdin was when I first saw it at eleven.

Let me set up a straw man here because I can hear the complaints.

You say, “What about the real world? We live in it.”

I say, “Yes.”

You say, “We need perspective on this world.”

I say, “Yes.”

You (well not you, but some less thoughtful reader) say, “An escape is a waste of time we should be spending paying attention to it.”

I say, “Hell No!”

That’s the beauty of escapes, they have to talk to us, the people of the real world, fictional characters are great, but they don’t read their own books.  The escape only works if we can see and understand the characters we need to be able to get their situations in order to care or escape into them.

A fine fantasy novel is like a similarly.   Neverwhere is a fine book, as visceral as hunting a boar the size of an ox with a bladed weapon.

If that sounds good you might also like Fight Club.