Stardust by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read this book because of Buzzfeed. No really. I did. Yes, I'm getting my book recommendations from a website with questionable editorial acumen but unquestioned purview and influence in our increasingly uncurated world; a place in which any schmo can write a review, or even make a suggestion that I might like this book because I liked Phantom Tollbooth and I say "Hmmm. Maybe. I'll try it." Heaven help us all.
But finding books in unlikely places allows one to find books you might not have found otherwise. This can be good. This can be bad. In the case of this particular book, it was somewhere in between; in that middle-ground country occupied by a feeling of ambivalence, a shrug of the shoulders and exhalation that sounds something like "Eh...."
A fairy-tale for grownups. Which just means that you are lured into that safe place of a tale for children, then someone has sex. Or a fallen star whispers "fuck." Jarring at first but either Gaiman, after the job of reminding you ever-so-not-gently that this is, indeed, meant to be for adults ("nipples") he got back to the work of telling a story.
And it wasn't a bad story. I found myself wanting to get to the end of it so I could find out if the connections I made were the right connections. And they were, of course, because there wasn't much magic to the story in the end.
There was potential, for sure. Like the idea that the lands of Faeire were bigger "than the world (for, since the dawn of time, each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going on and proving it wasn't there has taken refuge in Faerie; so it is not, by the time that we come to write of it, a most huge place indeed...)"
Or this throw-away moment;
"A fieldmouse found a fallen hazelnut and began to bit into the hard shell of the nut with its sharp, ever-growing front teeth, not because it was hungry, but because it was a prince under an enchantment who could not regain his outer corm until he chewed the Nut of Wisdom. But its excitement made it careless, and only the shadow that blotted out the moonlight warned it of the descent of a huge grey owl, who caught the mouse in its sharp talons and rose again into the night. The mouse dropped the nut, which fell into the brook and was carried away, to be swallowed by a salmon. The owl swallowed the mouse in just a couple of gulps, leaving just its tail trailing from her mouth, like a length of bootlace. Something snuffled and grunted as it pushed through the thicket---a badger, thought the owl (herself under a curse, and only able to resume her rightful shape if she consumed a mouse who had eaten the Nut of Wisdom), or perhaps a small bear."
But Gaiman never went the direction I wanted him to go. He overviewed when I wanted him to dig deeper. He dug deeper when I wanted him to overview. And, meanwhile, the story lost its meaning. Then the ending snuck up on me, ridiculous and unreal as fairy tale endings always are.
I rather enjoyed moments of Gaiman's prose. Like the evil witch who declaims, "The squirrel has not yet found the acorn that will grow into the oak that will be cut to form the cradle of the babe who will grow to slay me." Or the character that says, "There is a proverbial saying chiefly concerned with warning against too closely calculating the numerical value of unhatched chicks."
But, unlike Phantom Tollbooth, those moments were not woven tightly into the tapestry of the adventure. They were clever bits, followed by some storytelling, followed by another clever bit.
You know, I should have realized that Buzzfeed should not be entirely trusted when I picked up the book and saw that the hero is named Tristran, not Tristan, as Buzzfeed suggests. But fool me once, and I pick up another book from the same list, recommended because I liked Ramona Quimby when I was a kid. Stay tuned.
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