Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review: Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel

As some of your may recall, I pretty much flipped out for the Welcome to Night Vale podcast last year, as I got sucked into its compelling vortex of deeply strange storytelling in 25 minute bursts. The news that there was to be a Night Vale novel, however, was both exciting and slightly troubling; exciting because, hey, more Night Vale, but troubling because it feels so natural in a Radio Station format, and I wasn't really sure how it would translate onto the page with Cecils' voice to work some magic. Regardless, it was at the top of my Xmas list, and then the top of my read pile for the New Year. And only a week in, I've finished it - and here's what I think.

It seems fair to start with the point that Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is probably not a good place to start. Night Vale is a strange place with it's own rules, and whilst a fan of the show will have a sense of that logic, and how things fit together, the book does seem to assume you are familiar with a bunch of pre-existing elements. This is exaserbated by the opening section reading a little like a Night Vale travelogue, as characters visit locations from the show pretty much sequentially, giving a fan like myself the thrill of recognition, but at the same time I suspect a newcomer would wonder what the hell was going on. So with that caveat in mind, I have to say I rather enjoyed it.

The story follows two women, Diane, who has problems with her shape-shifting son, and Jackie, who runs the Pawn Shop and has been nineteen for as long as she can remember. Both start with their own concerns that gradually draw them together, linked to one of Night Vales oldest mysteries, the Man in the Tan Jacket. As the story goes it does, as mentioned, suffer a little bit from travelogue syndrome, ony picking up when the two characters properly converge in the Night Vale Library (home of the terrifying Librarians) and pushing on from there. It's also a little strange to have such a long-standing recurring plotline wrap up in a book, not the main show, but I'd imagine most regular listeners will buy it regardless.

It also captures the spirit of Night Vale pretty well - the strange, unfathomable rules that everyone just has to live with, and seeing them from a "normal citizen" level rather than from Cecil's booth is fun and refreshing. I've often wondered what life in Night Vale could acually feel like and the book is at its best when it draws emotional connections between the characters that are impacted by its strange and dangerous background wierdness. Wrapping the story around themes of families and loss is a smart "in" for the reader.The only real downside is that the writing style cleaves a little to closely to the audio scripts, and without Cecil's delivery it can "clunk" a little, rather than the ominous feel I think it's supposed to have.

But, for a fan of Welcome to Night Vale its well worth your time. If you're not a fan of Welcome to Night Vale, then go listen to the show for a bit, and then come back and read the book, it'll be well worth your time then. There are, apparently, more on the way, which I'm looking to as well.