Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I can forgive myself for many things. For where I left him. For what I did. But I will never forgive myself for the year that I hated my daughter, when I believed her to have run away, perhaps to the city."
Who could possibly resist the ominous implications of opening lines like these? But once you have teased out the truths which lead to the bleak consideration above they prove word-perfect. Are there many things more satisfying in life than poetic justice? I think not.
I relish a clever structure and this one is crafty indeed. The following paragraph alone seems straightforward and innocuous enough, but words are chosen carefully throughout and retrospect is a funny old thing.
"I had searched for nearly ten years, although the trail was cold. I would say that I found him by accident, but I do not believe in accidents. If you walk the path, eventually you must arrive at the cave."
The narrator is a Scotsman of strikingly diminutive statue. You might think that puts him at a disadvantage. You might be right; you may be wrong.
He calls at a fair-sized house gleaming white against rich, green pasture and fresh, purple heather as well as mist-shrouded mountains beyond. There he seeks a reaver called Calum MacInnes.
Calum MacInness proves to be a tall, guarded man with a wolfish face who looms over him. The narrator asks Calum MacInness to guide him to a cave in the Black Mountain on the Misty Isle. Although most believe that the cave exists not, he has heard that Calum McInness has been there and found gold inside. Those who do believe of the cave's fleeting existence believe also that it is cursed and that there is a price to be paid for any gold gathered from within. Calum MacInness warns him of this:
"This is bad gold. It does not come free. It has its cost."
"Everything has its cost."
I have not lied to you once up above nor have I told you the truth.
I'm not lying now when I tell you this is one of Gaiman's finest novellas which has gone through so many forms, including a reading enhanced by music and Eddie Campbell's projected illustrations first performed at the Sydney Opera House, before arriving at this similarly hybrid book not just designed but constructed by ALEC's Eddie Campbell himself.
Fascinatingly, the key conversations - snippets or largely confessions - are given subtle emphasis by being pulled up from the illustrated prose surrounding them in the form of comic panels. In any other circumstances I would have used the word "inset" instead, but to me they appear raised in an effect similar to spot-varnish. If you read these alone (and with careful inference) they expose the story's skeletal backbone buried beneath the body of the book. Or at least, I think they do: I read the tale in its entirety and things unlearned cannot be unlearned, only forgotten, and none of us have time to forget.
In any case I don't recommend doing so because only the emphatic effect is what's intended and you would, of course, have lost much of the flavour in the form of Campbell's atmospheric landscapes - his nocturnal croft, his majestic black mountains and in particular the twin thorn-bush paintings in which the seasons of life are contrasted with consummate cruelty - and Gaiman's measured tone which is as solemn as the judgement pronounced.
There are precedents for mixed media in comics like Posy Simmonds' TAMARA DREWE and GEMMA BOVERY but this shifts the balance in a new, daring way and there aren't many first attempts at anything which you could consider resounding successes. This is note-perfect, even without the contribution of the FourPlay String Quartet, although they are all on tour right now with this: http://www.neilgaiman.com/where/
The truth is a cave in the black mountains; and if you walk the path long enough eventually you will arrive there.