And then one day, I died. A death so horrible and gory, it hurts me to talk of it and the consequent resurrection. The land of the dead, my dear ones, is a land that is full of dreariness and regularity, where you wake up and find yourself in motion, only to realise that the happenings of yesterday and the day before and the days before that are repeating themselves.
Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.
After being inordinately creepy, it only seems fair to speak of Neverwhere, a pretty recent discovery, a book that was once devised as a television series by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry. Later penned down to perfection by the man I have loved for many, many years now, this Gaiman novel talks of London Below: The catacombs and the sewers, tunnels and abandoned underground rail stations, which remain inhabited by vampires, assassins, warriors, talking rats, and all that defines nightmares. The perfect place, created out of the dreary recesses of an ingenious mind, to add fuel to fears, to make you cringe, and to make you believe that beyond all you see, there is more: Gore, terror, incidents that are best defined as bizarre, and the under-belly of London.
It is here, that we are introduced to Richard Mayhew. Boring, predictable and largely what society would call productive. A security analyst, he lives through the mundane regularities of our everyday lives. The ever-so-frustrating job, the relationship that treats you like a commodity more than a partner and an equal, London, and everything far removed from the catacombs and their horrors. A character who will start growing on you with every turn of the page. Yes. He is that mundane. It is only with his sudden acquaintance with Door that he is flung into a realm he never thought could exist. Even in his most bizarre dreams.
It is young Door who rips the shards of regularity that have latched themselves on Mayhew and makes him into the hero so characteristic of Gaiman. She sends him on a long-drawn journey through the other half of London, the one where the adventures happen. And his task? To find a man called Marquis De Carabas, the only one, who can save her from the two men who have intentions of killing her, pretty much mercilessly. Croup and Vandemar, the vicious and blood-thirsty assassins, have this enormous comic aura around them that makes them incredibly creepy. But funny. Creepy-funny. That was a bit of runaway writing. Death and the consequent resurrection do that to you. I know.
Getting back to London Below. After much seeking, Richard indeed does succeed in getting back Marquis to his apartment, where Door lies in recovery from the battering and the near-death Richard saved her from, only to realise the abrupt disappearance of the two. What follows hereafter is Richard being hurled mercilessly into the realms of the underworld and a world of adventure from which he wants nothing but escape.
Though this is not one of the best works of Gaiman to be read by me, this is definitely one of those novels you cannot put down till you actually finish devouring every page. And looks like, it is also one of the novels you cannot stop writing about, given the layers and underlayers of reality and fantasy which co-exist so very convincingly. Each of the characters, human or otherwise, have been conceived as a stroke of utter brilliance. The settings, the stories, the truth about a world that cannot be accepted as real crowd the pages, etching in it images that make it a treat for the eyes, the mind, the senses, and the fears.
The lesson, boys and girls, that you learn from Neverwhere, is an easy one. And also one that will scare you, the more you realise the sheer truth it prophesies. You may try to run dear child, but destiny will never let you…