Monday, June 1, 2015

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell (Bloomsbury)

The Sleeper and the Spindle

Written by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Chris Riddell

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

We should start out with a warning. "The Sleeper and the Spindle" really isn't a children's book per se, but older children will relish the opportunity to read such dark fare so if they're already well versed with the brooding and dark imagination of Messrs Gaiman and Riddell, they'll be OK with this. It's definitely not a cosy bed-time read though, this.

"The Sleeper and the Spindle" weaves together a story that delves into the dreamscapes and darkest corners of a Brothers Grimm tale and fuses their rather morality-led storytelling with something that at once feels quite contemporary and full of exquisite little twists.

The story opens with a land slowly falling under a nefarious spell of sleep, and a queen who herself is newly awoken from a dark magic-tainted sleep herself. The brave queen is soon to be married, and laments the end of the life she knows (and loves) for a life of toil, child-bearing, unhappiness and 'married-ness' (owch!)

The queen is a fascinating character. Hewn from the same granite as Joan of Arc but with a delicate frail side, needing to pluck up all her courage to save her land from the dark spell and trace it to its nefarious roots. She enlists the help of a team of dwarves, the very same folk who were instrumental in freeing her from her dark sleep - and here Gaiman is expertly borrowing from so many other classic story themes to create something new and vibrant.

As the queen's mission begins she knows she's already running out of time. Her people are falling asleep in their droves, and when she finds the impenetrable source of the dark magic - a rose-thorn-encrusted tower - she starts to fall once again under the spell herself...

I can't really reveal too much of the story without revealing the big satisfying twist, delivered with a whump to the chest as the book draws to a close - Suffice to say that I remember seeing quite a lot of criticism levelled at this book (perhaps because of one particular amazing and gorgeous Chris Riddell illustration 3/4 of the way through the book that will leave you completely breathless - Those of you who've already read this will know the pic I mean).

Gaiman's writing is as tight as ever, no words are used lightly, and the themes that are explored here are dissected with precision and deft grace. Chris Riddell is the illustrator I'd most love to be able to draw like. His characters are beautiful, grotesque, expressive and astounding and fit this tale so well that you'd struggle to imagine anyone else illustrating this story.

I opted not to share this one with Charlotte - yet (I'd welcome debate on whether this was the wrong or right thing to do, and it was a decision purely to do with the darkness of the story and the way that I could imagine it sticking in a child's mind - particularly a child brought up loving 'fairy stories' - It certainly had nothing to do with the sapphic illustrative spread that seemed to get a lot of critics hot under the collar btw).

I am beginning to wonder if I'll ever find anything by Neil Gaiman that I don't take to (though some of his stuff does demand close attention and several 'readings' to properly appreciate his approach to storytelling - I could still fall either side of the fence with Neverwhere for instance). As for Chris Riddell, he never puts a foot wrong with me. I just can't get enough of his work.

Daddy's Favourite bit: The rich, sometimes rude descriptive language in this darkly delicious tale is perfectly complimented by exquisite ink drawings. Dark, twisty, fabulous storytelling.