Neverwhere follows an awkward, shy and, during the beginning of the novel, infuriatingly agreeable Richard Mayhew: A Scot turned superficial Londoner. The reader walks into the story with Richard living, essentially, a mundane life. He has Fiancée, Jessica, as well as an office job and a few laddish friends. He feigns contentment with his predicament and is constantly attempting to cope with his purposelessness. Richard, it appears, is always on the hook of someone else’s personality, mostly Jessica’s, looking for something to guide him. He does, however, expose the odd glimpse of volition.
One of these such sparks of dissent from Jessica’s will led him to disobey one of her commands, tending to a fatally injured homeless girl. Richard does not express much of his own during the early parts of this novel, however, it is clear empathy is one of his nodes of engagement with the world. This particular bout of kindness would lead him to look upon himself and London like he had never done before.
The homeless girl, from Richard’s view, was seemingly incapacitated on the sidewalk, with her figure made opaque by the bulky clothes she was wearing. Richard, nonetheless, reached closer to her level – realising something was amiss. Jessica attempted to dissuade Richard – which would usually work – “ohh I see. If you pay them any attention, Richard, they’ll walk all over you. They all have homes really”. In fact, Jessica was onto something; this particular person did have a home. . .in London below.
Richard Mayhew left Jessica to tend for the injured girl and eventually took her into his home for care. From then on, Richard’s life takes a U-turn from the comfortable and puts him on the road to self-discovery – which Gaiman symbolically depicts in the novel as everyone in Richard’s life seemingly forgetting him that day after he saves the girl, named ‘Door’. He needed to discover who he was, as a person, to then again be seen by others, and, more pressingly, himself. This is the underlying quest that would await him in London below.
Gaiman brilliantly weaves a fine-tuned knowledge of London into the exposition of his fantastical London below. If you, like I, enjoyed American Gods’ attention to cultural, historical and geographic detail, you’ll very much enjoy the London centric Easter eggs that frequently visit in the text.
Neverwhere is at heart the story of how Richard Mayhew found purpose and meaning. This character journey is laced with humour, attention to detail and characters that’ll make you want to name your children after them. The novel gives many titbits of advice, yet, the meta narrative that revealed itself to me was: when the extraordinary and those wonderful breaks from routine present themselves to you, always walk through the door that they appear from behind.