Stardust (2021 Edition) by Neil Gaiman
Headline, pb, £6.28
Reviewed by I. Rosenfeld
Stardust (2021) was first released in the late 1990s and made into a film in 2007. I never read the original novel but have a dim memory of the movie as an entertaining, inventive, tongue-in-cheek family treat for young teens upwards.
The re-released 2021 novel is a fairy tale for adults containing whimsical evil, flippant violence, supernatural malevolence, deflating humour, plus a memorably intense sex scene. It had the added advantage of lasting far longer than cinema-going. It satisfied far more than the visual and auditory fun of film-watching, and it tickled both wit and imagination in more tangible and lasting ways than a film ever could.
For Gaiman fans, this 2021 edition also contains an evocative short story set in the same fantasy world; a 2017 brief tribute to the author and his work by RR Martin; an interview with Gaiman; and questions for reading groups.
The tale’s opening takes us to the Victorian town of Wall, located near a steep rock partition with a zealously guarded gap in it. Once every nine years, people arrive from all over the world to enjoy a fair on the other side of this gap, where they can trade with the mysterious folk who live on the other side. When a man from the town of Wall makes love with a girl from the lands of Fairie beyond the gap, a child is born. Nine months later, Tristan, his baby son, is unceremoniously dumped on our side of this dual world – and this is the setup to a brilliantly narrated story based on traditional, deeply embedded cultural themes.
If, like me, you enjoy hypnotically narrated, amusing fantasy, you’ll find great fun in Tristan’s transformation into a painfully shy teenager beset by strange, guilty fantasies, not to mention his overblown and ludicrous promises to the girl of his dreams, who’s clearly not interested. In a half-amused, half-bored manner, she plays along with his ardent courtship until she spots a falling star in the distance – upon which, as a laid-back tease more than anything, she consents to give him whatever he desires if he fetches it (note the added literary joke cum tribute to Donne’s Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star).
Many mentors and enemies turn up along his way, but will his quest pay off? Well, fairy tales for adults can be grim, especially if the enemies are several murderous brothers and witches happy to devour a young heart so they can become young again.
I enjoyed the gusto, humour and sheer slap-dash ease with which Gaiman narrates Tristan’s quest. The story reads like a semi-improvised legend, told by a modern bard who turned up your hearth to captivate the household after the younger children were sent to bed. Curious to see if the end would disappoint, I found both its resolution and the melancholy and modern last lines pleasantly satisfying.