“There are hundreds of people in this other London. Thousands maybe. People who come from here, or people who have fallen through the cracks. I’m wandering around with a girl called Door, her bodyguard, and her psychotic grand vizier.”
Welcome to London below, a semi medieval dystopian world situated conveniently alongside our own. No one appears to notice it though, not unless they slip through the cracks of our London, London above. It’s filled with magic in its stranger forms – bounty hunters who eat ancient Chinese artwork, people who speak to rats, a wild ancient beast, evil angels, and much more.
Quite a far cry from our previous two selections, I chose Neverwhere for a taste of surreal London. In this London, Earl’s Court is a car on a train, Old Bailey is the man who lives up on a roof, the Serpentine is a noble woman and Islington is an angel. We as readers have our knowledge of London challenged by this book. We are forced to view it differently in order to keep pace.
Gaiman uses this new setting in semi familiar places to challenge the reader to see things from a different perspective. One of the more masterful things done in this book is in the very beginning where Richard can’t answer his phone, talk to his friend, or be seen by his landlord. The reader is put into a disoriented state. Once we become more integrated with London below we learn about the politics. We observe what appears to be a fully functional society and its problems, and then we are allowed to take those brief trips to London above with Anaesthesia or with Richard and Door at the museum to see how the problems are inherent in both societies. Often these problems are caricatured as characters, which allows Gaiman to do some beautiful social commentary. Perhaps the most obvious jab is when Mr. Stockton (obviously representing capitalist greed) is described and we get to meet him at the museum after seeing the mental toll he takes on his high strung assistant Jessica. (There are dozens of other commentaries that I encourage you all to discuss either in class or in the comments if you wish. )
We follow our archetypal band of merry heroes against seemingly obvious villains (well, up until the end) and are bombarded with Gaiman’s themes of politics, overlooking the outcast, treachery, constant change in the urban space, and class struggles.
Gaiman’s London is a rich tapestry of dark humour woven with shreds of history and rich stores of magic. We follow along on this modern hero’s tale and learn that we never really see anything until we are able to slip through the cracks. Once we see things in a new light, in an enlightened state, we are not allowed to return to the world we once thought we understood.
As a side note, the TV series came before this book. As Gaiman was writing the series and working with his producers he was taking notes of things he wanted to add into the novel to flesh it out. Once filming started he began to write the novel and the novel was released during the airing of the show.