Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Creepy Reads Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I recently read a novel by Neil Gaiman and wanted to feature it here in the blog. The name of that novel is The Graveyard Book. It tells the story of a little orphan boy who ends up in the graveyard and the ghosts raise him up, with some help from another person or creature living in the graveyard. I really liked that the narrator never actually says what this guardian type of character is. It is implied that he has many traits of a vampire, though.
The Finnish translation's cover
The world of this novel has supernatural and fantasy elements straight in the beginning. As is typical for the novels and graphic novels of Gaiman, around the fantasy elements there looms the normal magic free reality, but none of the main characters belong strictly to the normal world. I liked this book and want to encourage others to read it too, so I try my best to avoid spoilers.

The story begins with a scene in which a man named "Jack" kills a family, but their toddler manages to escape to the graveyard close by. The toddler is found and rescued by ghosts. He does not speak yet and hence has no name. The ghosts decide to call him Nobody. It is clear that the toddler is very important for some reason. The story of the boy Nobody and his family opens up slowly during the novel. Strong themes in this novel are loneliness and personal growth.

The Graveyard Book is categorized as a fantasy novel for children. I agree that children and teenagers are clearly the target audience, which is a slightly younger audience than what many other novels by Gaiman have. As an example I could mention Neil Gaiman's graphic novel series The Sandman and the novel Anansi Boys. It's been years since I read that one, but I have this faint memory that if considering ethics and who is evil and who is not, Anansi Boys was a lot more 'gray area' than The Graveyard Book. Which is great like that, since in Anansi Boys the characters are adults but in The Graveyard Book the main character is a boy growing up from being a helpless toddler to a youngster. The narration kind of leans towards the cognitive skills of a young boy, without being infantile.

The illustrations in this Gaiman's novel are made my Dave McKean, who has illustrated many other goth-y stories and books too. One featured before in this blog is The homecoming by Ray Bradbury. If you check that post out, you'll notice that in The homecoming the illustrations are more tightly knitted to the text than in The Graveyard Book.

I really liked The Graveyard Book. The plot structure was a mix of a growth story and a swashbuckler or an adventure story. They are both rather predictable plot structures but the novel was still very enjoyable and did not use any really stereotypical cliches. Strongly recommend!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Gothic Art in Spotlight: The Black Paintings of Goya and a trip to Madrid

I spent the last full week of May in Madrid, as a sort of a summer holiday because I am going to be working the whole summer (of which I am glad!). In my previous blog post I already mentioned that this spring would be very busy for me and I was not wrong. I have finished my studies and before I traveled to Madrid, the capital of Spain, I had emptied and cleaned my apartment in Tampere, the city where my (soon to be ex-)University is. I returned from Madrid  two days before my new work began and for the past week I've been still very busy, learning the new job.
The view from the hotel room in Madrid
In Madrid I visited many amazing art museums and saw many great paintings and statues by famous and not so famous artists. The works were beautiful or thought-provoking but not something that was hitting that "goth spot", if you know what I mean. :) The most goth paintings I saw on my trip would be Francisco de Goya's "Black Paintings". I saw most of them at the Museo del Prado, the distinguished art museum with the largest collections in Madrid. They had a whole room full of Goya's grim and ominous paintings.

The Black Paintings are paintings Goya (1746–1828) made between 1819 and 1823. He used much darker colors and shades compared to his earlier works and most importantly, the paintings depicted sinister and horrifying things. This is a painting called "Saturn eating his son" and the name is quite explicit. Saturn, the father of Zeus and other gods of Ancient Greece, is devouring his own son because there was a prophecy that one of Saturn's own children would kill him. So he would eat them all. This is a striking and obscene painting.
I must admit that I've never been a fan of Goya and the Black Paintings do not make my heart shiver nor do they put me into awe. The subjects of the Black Paintings are interesting but something in Goya's style just isn't suitable for me. Goya also made some paintings of witches and their grim rites in the end of the 18th century. Their colors are lighter but subjects are not. In this painting a group of witches are having a feast with the incarnation of the devil or another demon and they are offering dead or ghoulish children to him. Or at least that is how I interpret this scene.
These paintings could easily delight and interest goths. The macabre and twisted elements are fairly visible and they have a sort of a timeless vibe in them, with the mythical themes and folklore-ish subjects.

As a side note: Museo del Prado is now having an exhibition of Hieronymous Bosch and his works and it looks like it is amazing. Alas, I could not see it because I had to return to Finland before the exhibition opened. The exhibition is the biggest exhibition of Bosch this year. If you happen to be in Madrid in near future, that Bosch exhibition is definitely worth checking out!