Page 45 Review by Stephen
"You cannot hear a poem without it changing you."
Reading a short story, a prose novel or a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman is both a transforming and transporting experience.
So often they begin as tales ostensibly set in this world and may well return to this world once more, but only after passing over a metaphorical bridge - or some sequestered, sun-dappled stepping stones - into another.
It's as though a rarely spotted signpost has popped up, redirecting you down a road less travelled, a side-path to somewhere else, somewhere other.
I'm thinking of DEATH, his BOOKS OF MAGIC, CORALINE, ANANSI BOYS and most especially THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE. That particular signpost was never meant to be glimpsed, I don't think.
What you see is so rarely what you get. I wouldn't bet on getting anything you see on the surface in a Gaiman graphic novel. THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS will give almost everyone involved far, far more than they bargained for, including its readers. You should be careful of bargains, always.
Gaiman's knack is to present you at first with the familiar, then take a subtle, almost unnoticeably swerve at the transdimensional traffic lights into the far from familiar in order to enlighten, to frighten and to change.
The set-up here is ever so familiar to those of us who, in our teens, didn't know how to talk to girls at parties.
Vic and Enn are going to a party. The narrator, Enn, is being dragged along in the wake of Vic's ebullient, carefree enthusiasm. He trails behind physically just as he has always lagged behind emotionally, and he is very much aware of his comparative awkwardness and ineptitude. To be honest, he's terrified.
His experience of girls is especially limited since he's attending an all-male school. And then there's the post-pubescent leap.
"When you start out as kids, you're just boys and girls, going through time at the same speed. And then one day there's a lurch and the girls just sort of sprint off into the future ahead on you... And they know all about everything, and they have periods and breasts and makeup and god-only-knew-what-else... for I certainly didn't.
"Biology diagrams were no substitute for being, in a very real sense, young adults.
"And the girls of our age were.
"Vic and I weren't."
All of this understandable hand-wringing is presented in the first half a dozen pages as the boys wend their way through London suburbs. And it is all so familiar.
"You just have to talk to them," says Vic, helpfully.
But remember what I said. I don't think it's going to be quite that simple today.
It's all so familiar because Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, the creators of DAYTRIPPER and TWO BROTHERS have from the very first page established the spirit of place and time so superbly. Yes, time! This is a period piece, set in the early days of punk, and music will play its own part.
Look at the cars, the fashions, the dresses and blouses - and the hallway globe Atlas which I used to take great delight in spinning while studying its demarcations not one jot! African masks were a very big thing when I were a lad.
I love the late-summer light reflected later on in the conservatory, and the way in which the pavement bends and almost buckles beneath them. It's all very human, comforting, soft and vulnerable. Anything ruled more strictly would have been way too clinical and far too modern.
There are no straight lines here. Avenues curve tantalisingly out of sight ahead of our teens as the regular, rhythmic pulse calls them ever on before then emanating from the bowed bay windows of the one detached house in the street.
But have you noticed the stepping stones being crossed?
The seed of doubt which Gaiman has so cleverly planted as quickly as Vic has dismissed it?
Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá are the perfect twin collaborators for this project. In my review of their DE: TALES long, long ago I referenced Neil Gaiman for it felt to me that so many of the short stories there could not only have been originated by but written by Gaiman as well.
This review will take you no further than the first dozen pages of this graphic novella, for this to me is Important. But once you've crossed over its yellow-bricked, wooden-fenced threshold both Moon and Bá will make the shadows dance, along with the house's occupants.
Did you bring your bottle of blanc?