open the pages, read the words, savor the magic
From the expert of lovely creepiness, The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains is NeilGaiman’s take on family tragedy that is presented as an adventurous treasure hunting tale.Themes of evil, revenge and greed give extra depth to a story that is not only a prose but also a visual delight, by way of illustrations from Eddie Campbell.
But this book is – as I understand it – not a book at all. When it was first introduced to the public, Gaiman read the story accompanied by a string orchestra and Campbell’ illustrations on screen. Having just the story and the illustration in this version might come as a poor substitute for that, the story remains strong. And if my Google searching skills have not deteriorated, there was a recent performance (in 2014) of this story by Gaiman in Edinburgh. So perhaps to call this a mere book is probably a gross understatement, but for the purpose of this review let’s just call it what it looks like: indeed, a book.
As it is with many Gaiman novels and shorter pieces, The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains reads like a fairy tale. A grimm, dark and dire fairy tale, to be precise. A dwarf goes on searching for gold and finds a guide, which turns out to be Calum MacInnes, for his purpose. The journey of these two men to the titular mountains is fraught with tension, distrust and a great sense of danger.
This difficult relationship progresses mostly in stilted and awkward conversations, with a slight sense of something menacing that brews underneath the interactions. The story moves forward, there’s a mystery waiting burst its ugly head, and we know that at some point something bad will happen. Here, Campbell’s illustrations play a big part in creating the atmospheric thrill of that journey, instead of just the writer’s words. With a Scottish setting, we are guaranteed a road trip tale through both rugged and picturesque terrains, where there seems to be something mystic (or spiritual, if you prefer) in the landsape. They say the quill is mightier than the sword. If that’s the case then the quill is doubly powerful here because not only does the prose flow intriguingly, but the pictures also enhance.
When everything – that ugly mystery – finally becomes clear in a tragic, bittersweet ending (don’t cry SPOILERS; this is a Neil Gaiman story. There’s always something tragic and bittersweet in all of his endings.) we’ll have already gone through one of the most psychologically thrilling – and also disturbing – road trip tales in literature. Even if the storytelling does not leave you starry-eyed, the twist will certainly spin your head on its shoulders. If only most modern mystery novels have this kind combination of gripping plot and poetic allure, we’d all be reading nothing else but them.
In the end, to call this a mere book is a probably gross understatement. This work would probably best described as the essence of a beautiful and singular performance art piece. Or, if you want the slightly less highbrow compliment: it’s just a bloody good book.