Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Neverwhere, Neal Gaiman’s Chicago-inspired novel about a fantasy world beneath London, is the 20th selection of “One Book, One Chicago”—and the final choice during Mayor Daley’s tenure.
The 1996 novel tells the story of Richard Mayhew, who has what the author describes as a “sensible job in securities, a sensible fiancée and a sensible life,” only to have his identity erased after coming to the rescue of a girl he finds bleeding on a sidewalk.
In a sci-fi novel that Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey likened to Alice in Wonderland, Mayhew is pulled into an alternative universe that exists beneath London. That’s where, as Gaiman put it, “The things and the people that fall through the cracks go.”
If Mayhew is ever to return to his mundane life in “London Above,” he must first survive a series of adventures in “London Below,” the dark and shadowy world populated by “monsters and saints, murderers and angels.”
“I’m not a fan of fantasy, generally. But, I actually loved this book. Loved it,” Dempsey said after joining Daley at a news conference at the Harold Washington library called to announce the selection.
“It’s like Alice in Wonderland. It’s tremendous fantasy. It’s beautifully written. It’s the pedways. It’s underneath the subway. You will never ride the subway again and look at it in the same way after you read this book.”
In a letter from the author included in the study guide, Gaiman revealed that he got the idea for Neverwhere after reading, “Free, Live Free,” a Gene Wolfe book set in Chicago.
“I thought there ought to be a whole genre of stories out there—magic stories—in which people travel through a city that’s as much a character as the people in it,” Gaiman wrote.
Just as Chicago inspired Neverwhere, Gaiman said the city has embraced the novel by putting it on stage.
“This is my fantasy: That everyone in Chicago reads, Neverwhere. Everyone. All the people in Chicago Above and even—because we know they are there—the shadowy figures of Chicago Below who have stepped out of legend long enough to read about Richard Mayhew and to learn, as Richard does, that it all starts with doors.”
Gaiman will make two public appearances in Chicago to discuss his novel—at 6 p.m. April 12 at the Harold Washington Library’s Cindy Pritzker Auditorium and at 7 p.m. April 13 at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.
A Neverwhere—focused tour of the Chicago pedway system is also among the special events tied to the 20th installment of, “One Book, One Chicago,”