Gothic! by Deborah Noyes
|Gothic! by Deborah Noyes|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A range of ghost stories for the teenage reader, with very varied styles, approaches and success. A 15 certificate for language, but otherwise for 11-14 year olds.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: October 2007|
|Publisher: Walker Books Ltd|
Some people never learn. If you intend to build a tractor ride that incorporates a chamber of horrors, do not build it on the site of a serial killer's farm. If you're employed to guard over a man's corpse for the night so that no witch can come and take his face, you just do not fall asleep on the job.
Other people you can forgive in their ignorance. Who would have thought quite what young Walter would be left guarding when told to prove himself responsible? Should we blame Mark Banks for not foreseeing what happens when he buys a rarely cheap country pile, with turreted room for his daughter to choose to live in?
Other examples of the horror or ghost story in this selection of ten offer more sagacity. The elderly man with the foreign accent, in the first story, knows just how to put an errant spirit to rest. And Neil Gaiman offers a crow with the knowledge of how to revive an author from writer's block, in a completely clever, witty and subversive effort.
It has to be said that on the whole, the gothic element of this book is just a gimmick. Yes, there are several rooms in turrets, but for the most part there is no real sense of the gothic, as the introduction goes to great lengths to define it, and they could fit into any interchangeable ghost story collection. The most successful at the real Gothic are the late Joan Aiken, with her opener, Gregory Maguire with his very fresh and oh-so-hip-talking approach to the secret in the attic, and the story Stone Tower, which is even Goth as opposed to Gothic - coming on like a literary mystery with a real goth rock video story storyline.
I should also make sure you realise this is an American book, with hardly a change for the British audience. Thus the Maguire story starts with the young girl peppering every sentence with "like" and such slangy phrases, Barry Yourgrau is similarly mired in American sensibilities, and as for M T Anderson's updating of an ancient old saw, well - the least said about that one the better, actually, as it's really quite poor in style and delivery.
With a very successful spread of approaches to the ghost story, there comes a resulting spread of quality. Neil Gaiman doesn't exactly go for the chills, as his story is laugh-out-loud different - in a good way, heaping on as many gothic clichés as you could think of (then more) and giving a unique slant on the genre. Elsewhere, one story of a spectral rite of passage is again very poor - smacking of coming as a quicky companion to an already-published novel, featuring a ridiculous vocabulary for the average twelve year old, and being very poor in execution.
Other stories offer greatness, and would achieve it were it not for their wrapping up the reveal too quickly, or having some such minor, forgivable flaw. For me, this book offered what I expected of Celia Rees (perhaps most guilty of the rushed climactic explanation) and Gaiman - something very well written and relishing the task of reviving gothic for new audiences, an interesting quick literary puzzle from Garth Nix, and among the rest - well, a few good ones, a few very poor ones I can't see anyone loving, but no-one to add to my mental list of teenage writer favourites.
Ten out of ten for any such compilation would be very hard to achieve. The hit rate here I would suggest was somewhere about six and two halves out of ten, which makes it a reasonable success, but more could have been done to make it friendlier for a British audience, drop the f-word from such a youthful book, and find better efforts.
It remains an interesting selection of ghost stories - that on original publication back in 2004 were all exclusive - but don't expect uniform brilliance, or uniform interest in that other g-word. I would still like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of it for the Bookbag to sample.
You can read more book reviews or buy Gothic! by Deborah Noyes at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Gothic! by Deborah Noyes at Amazon.com.
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