I remember seeing this book when it was released at my favorite bookshop in my college town and my best friend bought it but I totally forgot about it until this weekend as I was checking in books at the library. I immediately grabbed the hardcopy off the shelf and took it home to read. I finished it within about a half-hour, as it’s a really short read, but I really enjoyed it! Here is my review for The Sleeper and the Spinner, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell!
Since I now work at a library, I’m trying to learn to utilize it as a service and read more library books. I think this is a good example of why this is good for me: I pick up books to borrow that I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy. This book probably would have remained on my wishlist into perpetuity if I hadn’t seen it at the library and felt inclined to read it risk-free. I’m glad this book wasn’t a purchase. I like Neil Gaiman, but only sometimes. This is a time of tolerance, and not overwhelming admiration (like in The Graveyard Book).
That isn’t to say I didn’t like it — in fact, I quite enjoyed it. However, I wasn’t over the moon for it, and it’s good for my personal library to be a really clean and cultivated representation of me and my interests and obsessions. I enjoyed this book, but as a rule fairy tales aren’t my thing.
So the book twines together two familiar tales, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. I think it was interesting to bring these two together since they both involve sleeping princesses and both are resolved with a kiss. It took me a while though, to realize what was going on. There’s something insider about this book — I kind of felt like I had missed a chapter or a page near the start, and even tried to flip back wondering if pages had stuck together. When I found that they hadn’t, I trusted Gaiman and kept going. It worked itself out mostly, but this is a book that prides itself on being purposefully obtuse. I think it’s a jibe from Gaiman to the original texts where characters don’t have consistent names or aren’t named at all, and where the audience is expected to have heard the tale before. Like fairy tales, which are told and retold infinitely, Gaiman wants the reader to trust what they already know about the base story of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, and then allow him to mold and shape the tale out from under us. We bring him a bowl filled with ingredients for chocolate cake and with his story telling power, he turns it into red velvet.
I think Gaiman is pretty successful with this. He plays with the original tales nicely, and gives us a plot twist which I think is pretty ingenious. I particularly liked the ending of the story, especially in a tradition that likes to end with weddings as “happily ever after”s. It was a nice read before bed, and probably a full novel of this novella would be pretty successful.
Probably the power of this book is in the illustrations. Chris Riddell’s artistry shines page to page, and adds a depth and personality that I think the prose only supplied partially. If you flip through the book before you read, you might think you’re in for one thing, only to have the story twisted out from beneath you. One illustration in particular induced my best friend to buy it, and it turned out to be a touch misleading! However, in connection with the text, when the pictures are viewed and digested in the same pace as the story, they really add some majesty to Gaiman’s quirky story-telling style.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. If you like fairy tales and retellings, this is definitely a read for you. If you like illustrations or short reads, this book is definitely up your alley. It’s Neil Gaiman kind of indirectly, or at least I felt that way, as he didn’t quite shine out like he usually does in his prose, so Gaiman fans should check it out, but expect it to be a little bit diluted from his usual form.
What’s your favorite fairy tale retelling?