Neverwhere by BBC 4: audiobook review

Blurb: Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.

I’ve been meaning to read a book by Neil Gaiman for a long time now, but I always find myself distracted by something else and his books getting lower on my list — I tend to think they’re iconic reads, so I’ll always have time to get to them eventually. So, when I finally decided to ‘read’ something of his, I jumped at the chance to listen to Neverwhere, adapted for BBC Radio 4.

I admit, it was the cast that did it for me. Featuring James Macavoy, Natalie Dormer, David Harewood, Sophie Okonedo, Christopher Lee and Benedict Cumberbatch I couldn’t help but give it a go. And what a ride it was!

It’s a radio play, in essence, and it’s mesmerising. Readers or listeners are taken through to London Below, complete with sound effects to complete the picture you’ll have in your mind. I’ve come late to the world of audiobooks, so this was a revelation – even as I know that not all audiobooks feature a cast as illustrious as this.

The story is as engrossing as every review of Neil Gaiman promised it was. Listeners are taken on an adventure through London Below with the out-of-his-depth Richard as one good deed turns his life upside down. When he saves Door, a citizen of London Below, and part of one of the famous families, he’s taken along on her quest to find her family’s killers.

Accompanying Door on her question is Hunter her bodyguard, and the Maquis. Together with Richard they travel through London Below in search of her family’s killer until things come to a head in an unexpected way.

Even as I know not every audiobook can have a cast of characters – actors or not – I was mesmerised by how this world came to life. I may have been at the gym, listening to this, but the world the BBC created with this adaptation is utterly riveting. James MacAvoy makes Richard sound naive but determined, but determined to do the right thing. Natalie Dormer gives Door this impossibly innocent voice and Sophie Okonedo makes Hunter sound fierce and undefeatable. As the angel though, I do admit Benedict Cumberbatch sounded… high. I can’t explain it, the angel had an almost distracted, flighty sound to him.

It didn’t matter in the end, the cast and the story were absolutely captivating. It feels wrong to give this stars or anything else, because honestly, this is so unique, just sit back and enjoy it.


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