The book club has always set out to do books of varying lengths, written in different styles and genres, and dealing with variable subjects. Completely by accident, we met all our aims by going from a hefty tome spanning almost the entire breadth of America to a much shorter book that begins on the border of a ‘Faerie’ much darker than the reader first realises.
One of the biggest (pun intended) issues the readers faced with the book was how slight it felt. The first few chapters feel properly fleshed out, but the rest of the narrative feels rushed. This is especially evident since, from the very beginning, it seems fairly evident where the story is headed; the main interest is in how it unfolds. On a positively blasphemous note for a book club, the film version was considered to have more to get into: there were characters and subplots missing from the book (ironic since several of us had copies whose covers featured the actors playing the characters), which seemed unusual since the film script was written first. Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth and Joanne Harris’ Runemarks trilogy were cited as examples of retellings of well-known fairy or mythic tales that went on fascinating narrative journeys of their own.
This also meant that the characters themselves lacked heft, and didn’t get to become much more than ciphers. The ‘hairy man’, for example, disappears completely even though without him, Tristran’s quest would have ended before it started. However, when there is some development in a subplot, as in Lady Una’s story, her metamorphosis at the end seemed unlike her portrayal in the rest of the book.
Even though Wall itself was considered dull, everyone liked the idea of the gap that allows entry into Faerie, even though the latter turns out to be even more dark and dangerous than it is is beautiful. This duality is reflected in two particular scenes that render the book’s positioning unclear. The style and tone of the book, for the most part, fits the book for juvenile readers as well, but the sex scene (no matter how subtly done) and the scene with the unicorn make that categorisation uncomfortable.
This book is not typical of Neil Gaiman’s body of work, so perhaps not the best suited as an introduction to his work. Recommendations to his ‘representative’ work were Neverwhere or American Gods.