Stardust by Neil Gaiman - A Book Review
I am still struggling with my current non-fiction book (or three). I started re-reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (because I’d forgotten the whole thing) and lost track. I started Phantoms in the Brain by V. S. Ramachandran and…you guessed it – I lost track. My third attempt (hopefully successful) is with The Travel Gods Must be Crazy by Sudha Mahalingam. I’m still at it…
The book I read instead is of the fantasy variety; one that several people had recommended to me: Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Honestly, the story didn’t fascinate me all that much, but since it came so highly recommended, I bought it anyway.
And honestly, I’m so glad I did! The first page in itself hooked me. And it wasn’t even the start of the story. It was a simple “About the Author”, and it cracked me up! Here it is:
I mean, isn’t it just adorable?
But I digress.
So, what’s the book about?
It’s a simple story, really. Boy loves girl. Girl doesn’t love boy. Boy begs girl. Girl tells him to bring her a fallen star…
Oh well. Not such a simple story, after all!
The book is about a young man, Tristan Thorn, who lives in a village called “Wall”, named because it has a literal wall separating the human world from a fantasy world with unicorns and elves and fairies and stuff.
Tristan Thorn falls in love with the most beautiful girl in the village, Victoria Forester, but she says no. Tristan begs her to marry him and then makes the mistake of telling her he’ll do anything for her hand.
She makes an impossible request: bring her a fallen star.
So, madly infatuated that he is, the silly Tristan Thorn sets out Beyond The Wall to get his lady love (attraction? infatuation?) a star. The world he enters is strange and fraught with danger. But of course, he’s our protagonist, so he keeps on going, in search of a star…
Okay, that’s basically it. The book is about his adventures in that world.
My take on the book
I absolutely loved it!
It was wonderfully weird and full of unexpected twists.
And the author is very fond of wordplay. You never know what insignificant phrase will turn out to be the entire basis of the book, and that’s just an admirable talent, isn’t it?
An example of his wonderful play on words (no spoilers, promise!)
“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.”
Later on the page...
'A red squirrel quested, hesitating a little, into the firelight. It picked up an acorn, held it for a moment in its handlike front paws, as if it were praying. Then it ran away – to bury the acorn, and to forget it.'
The book is written in a lyrical kind of style, which was a little unsettling for me at first because I don’t typically read that sort of stuff. But it grew on me.
His vivid descriptions took me to his strange world and made me feel like I was on the journey with Triston Thorn.
The way he’s played with words in the book didn’t really set in till I reached the end of the book, but in retrospect, that wordplay is what made an otherwise nonsensical story make sense (or as much sense as a story with talking trees and unicorns can make, at least).
Though Tristan was undoubtedly the hero of the book, there are several side characters who are nonetheless very important to the plot. And the narration shifts to other characters at a dizzying pace. I usually don’t like this style, but somehow, it suited this story just find and only had it shaking my head fondly, saying, “How delightfully weird!”
It was a little difficult to keep up with all of them, though, and I had to keep going back to remind myself who they were. And honestly, I’m sure I’ll appreciate the book much more when (yes; when, not if) I re-read it.
What I loved:
The sheer weirdness. Seriously. I can’t say it enough. It was wonderfully, delightfully, awesomely absurd.
The wordplay. If I tell you anything, it will be a spoiler. But suffice to say that the words in this story mean much more than they seem to mean.
The side characters. They were all really odd people (some were not even people). They weren’t all good. Some were downright evil. But they were all also somehow quite charming.
The character development. Honestly. It shouldn’t be possible to give depth to such a host of characters in such a short book. But somehow, this guy did it. And I always love great character development!
What unsettled me:
The language. I usually prefer if my books are a little simpler to read because I don’t really like using my brains much when I’m reading. This book, with its long sentences, the somewhat tough words, the long descriptions…it didn’t really appeal much to me.
That’s actually it. Other than the difficult-to-read language, I loved everything about the book.
You should read it if:
You like fantasy
You don’t mind a little difficult language
You’re okay with being confused and wondering what’s going on as you read a book
You love the really weird stuff
You admire clever wordplay
You may not like it if:
You’re a beginner at reading (seriously. This book is not for beginners)
You prefer your books firmly rooted in reality
You want books to be deep (this book is, in places, completely silly. That’s why I loved it. I adore silly)
Strongly recommended to all fantasy-lovers or even non-fantasy lovers who’re willing to experiment a little bit. Read it when you’re in the mood for a light-hearted book.