Curriculum Vital

    Almost Gothic 
    Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse, by Chris Riddell

    As one might expect from a book written by a political cartoonist, Chris Riddell's Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is packed with puns and awash with wit. The drawings, too, are of the highest quality. Young Ada Goth's brave adventures in the vast mansion of her father, Lord Goth, will make children ooh and adults ha. Be warned, though: the blizzard of characters, the raft of references and the deluge of deft jokes can make you feel as if you're in a complex network of paths and corn rows. That is, in a maize...

    In common with several other children's books I've read recently, the array of otherworldliness in Ghost Girl sometimes feels like an attempt to bolster a fairly meek plot. For example (and I hope this doesn't count as spoiling), Ishmael, the ghost mouse mentioned in the book's title, is mostly incidental to the main drama. In fact, I can't help but think that the Memoirs of a Mouse inset (an amusing take not on Moby Dick, as I was expecting, but on Gulliver's Travels) was hastily added once the editors realised the secondary status of said rodent. (And I'm surprised Riddell didn't make Ishmael an ardent communist from the Orient. That is, a Maouse...) Fortunately, unlike the children's books that put shock value over story, Ghost Girl survives thanks to the dryness and subtlety of the humour and the amiability of Ada Goth.

    Whether she encounters her new, vampire governess, her grieving, gnome-shooting father or a "sheepish" goat, Ada displays calmness and good manners and more than a touch of courage. She lives a quiet yet fantastically bizarre life with her father in Ghastly-Gorm Hall, an estate so large and ostentatious it would make the Palace of Versailles look like a Quaker pantry. Ada's enigmatic and heartbroken father is preparing for his annual party, featuring the metaphorical bicycle race and the indoor hunt. The latter event, we soon discover, is shrouded in sinister secrecy, and it's up to Ada and (occasionally) Ishmael to find out what's going on.

    That's the plot, then. Much more entertaining are the clever tips o' the hat to literary pretension and gothic silliness, including: the scribbling foot that gives additional information at the bottom of the page; the Pond of Introspection; the Avenue of Outrageous Fortune; Dr. Jensen's one-dimensional observations ("When a man is tired of throwing bread rolls he is tired of life."); and a singing bird that's sure to be a hit in the Cotswolds, the Siren Sesta.

    What Riddell has produced is a book that adults will enjoy reading to children, and children will enjoy reading alone. He ably and amusingly cuts his coat according to his goth.

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    Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse won the Costa Children's Books Awards. > See the latest nominations for this award.

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