On Thursday last week, the Nosy Crow Reading Group discussed Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse.
I am a huge Chris Riddell fan, myself, and was proud to acquire the Ottoline books when I was at Macmillan and to publish the Muddle Earth books, which Chris wrote with Paul Stewart. And so we are really delighted that he’s working on illustrations for Nosy Crow’s own Witchworld series.
All seventeen of us at this month’s Nosy Crow Reading Group loved the “amazing”, “beautiful”, “fantastic” illustrations in Goth Girl, and all but one of us loved the “astonishing” production values of the hardback book – the silver foiling, the shiny spot UV, the sparkling foiled edges, the quality of the paper and the printing, the tiny book at the end. The one dissenter felt it was maybe over-bling-y, but hers was a lone voice.
Many of us had a strong sense of the author’s immersion in the world he’d created, and his passion for it.
Whenever we look at books, a key question for the reading group is always, “who is it for”, and we struggled to come to a consensus on the answer for this book. Clearly, lots of the literary and other allusions and references, from Homer to Fight Club and Abercrombie and Fitch, and the presence of parodies of historical figures like Mary Shelley and Samuel Johnson, aren’t going to be picked up by child readers.
There was a divide in the group between those who felt that this wasn’t an issue – that the characters and the story were fun and compelling enough for children to simply skate over the stuff they didn’t “get” (but might remember and “get” later), and those who felt that the balance between the jokes with adult appeal on the one hand and the plot and characters with child-appeal on the other hand was weighted too much towards adults. Those who weren’t so keen felt that Ada was a little flat as a character, and the absence of an emotional journey for her meant that it was hard to engage with her. Some of us thought that the book was “self-indulgent”. Many of us thought that the ending was a little hurried, and that there were plot holes and loose ends. Several people commented on what appeared to be editorial glitches, mismatches between the text and the art (the text description of the image on page 137 refers to a man chasing a swan, but the picture shows a woman: Leda, I assume), for example.
This book won the Costa children’s book prize. The judges described it as “wonderful, charming, delightful and inventive.” And Josh Lacey, reviewing the book for The Guardian, says, “The actual plot is skimpy, but that doesn’t matter; the point of this lovely book is its oddball characters, witty details and literary references […] But it is Riddell’s artwork that really makes this book such a pleasure to hold and read. The text is peppered with all kinds of lovely illustrations, from sketches of the characters to a magnificent double-page spread of an elegant vampire duelling sabre-rattling pirates. There are loving nods to 18th-century pamphlets and magazines, the wallpaper and statuary that you’ll find tucked away in odd corners of stately homes, and, of course, Peake and Heath Robinson (Dr Cabbage looks very much like Professor Branestorm, even down to his habit of wearing several pairs of glasses). Goth Girl may be marketed at tween girls, but will undoubtedly find a very happy readership among adults.”
As a group, it’s fair to say that we loved the art, and the physical book itself, but felt that we’d enjoyed other examples of Chris Riddell’s writing more.