Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse – Chris Riddell

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse, Chris Riddell

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is the story of Ada, who lives in an old Gothic mansion with a cast of unlikely and eccentric characters. One night, she hears the spectral squeaking of a ghostly mouse, and this kickstarts her adventure – not just investigating a shadowy conspiracy, but slowly exploring the labyrinthine house and its many secrets.

The author, Chris Riddell, is someone I have a lot of time for – working with Paul Stewart, he co-wrote and solely illustrated The Edge Chronicles. It is a magnificent series, which I will always hold up as an example both of complex and original world-building, and that children’s fiction doesn’t have to pull its punches.

He’s written many others, but this is the first book I have read which is solely his work. Overall, I quite liked it, though it doesn’t compare very well to The Edge Chronicles – it lacks the depth and complex themes of the other series, though that may be because it is aimed at somewhat younger children.

The start didn’t grab me – it was very cluttered, with over-the-top detail piled on over-the-top detail. Everything is whimsical and rather fey – frankly, after the umpteenth crazy and off-the-wall factoid, I began to get a little irritated. All of the random exposition gets in the way of the narrative.

Luckily, after a chapter or two, the book calms down a bit, and starts to get interesting. All of the major characters have been established, the setting is laid out enough for the reader to have a basic understanding, and the actual plot gets underway. From that point on, I did enjoy the book – there is a decent sense of menace built up, and an appropriately offbeat climax, pulling all of the seemingly disparate and unconnected elements together.

The writing is full of references that I’m certain will go over the heads of the target audience, but it does give it an extra dimension – I enjoyed trying to spot them all – notable examples are Ada’s previous governesses (including Jane Ear, who set fire to the West Wing, and a monstrous yet misunderstood Polar Explorer). Almost every character is a reference to someone from Romantic or Gothic literature, and I think it highly likely that several characters I couldn’t place were just more obscure references than I am equipped to cope with. The constant call-backs add another layer of meaning to the plot, which is always welcome in a book for children; easy to understand shouldn’t mean simplistic.

As above, I know the author primarily as an illustrator. The book is illustrated throughout with his distinctive style, which helps visualize the (frequently absurd) inhabitants of the text. I always enjoyed the incredible detail he brings to images, especially as they are used more to bring life to the world than just accompany the story. The images are particularly effective to flesh out my favourite character, the vampire duelist governess. She doesn’t get a huge amount of description in the book, so having the illustrations to add depth is appreciated.

Despite the subtitle – “and the ghost of a mouse” – the ghost of the mouse is a surprisingly small part of the narrative. At various points, Ada entirely forgets about him, and he has very little impact on the overall narrative. His only function for the central plot is to get her out of bed at night, where she picks up the main narrative. It confused me slightly – the book would have been better titled “and the Hobby-horse hunt” or almost any other reference to the major events. However, as an upside, the book does contain a second , mouse-sized book of the mouse’s memoirs.

Goth Girl didn’t amaze me, but it did entertain me. I think I might be a little too old to appreciate it fully, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth reading, and I can see a younger me, or another child, absolutely adoring it. The book is original, unexpected, and frequently quite exciting.

 The Amazon link is here. There is also a sequel – Goth Girl and the Fete Worse than Death, which came out a couple of weeks ago.

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