This will be a bit of a different tack for me. I commute many, many miles each week, and find the comfort of a good podcast relaxing enough in my mobile man-cave to keep me from bursting at the seams at the morons that litter our highways. Never mind that they commit the same transgressions that I do on a routine basis – they’re different, because they aren’t me. Harumph. But every now and then, a short audio book comes along that strikes Doc’s fancy, and with that, I’ll dive in to today’s review – the utterly delightful “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains.”
Let me start by saying I am a huge Neil Gaiman fan. He could write out a shopping list and I’d cry like a slapped baby for hours, I’m almost sure of it. So perhaps the well’s a bit poisoned whenever I open up a new book of his: I take a swig already knowing it will be my Favorite New Thing. “The Truth…” is no different.
I downloaded the audio from my library’s Overdrive site – please, please, please: if your library offers Overdrive, a free way to download books and audio, you’ve GOT to jump on it! It’s an amazing world of free stuff, on loan to your device, just like any other library loan. Go to their website and see if your library is a participant; if not, talk to your library’s management, and see if there’s anything that can change their mind.
Where was I? Ahh. I downloaded the audio to find that 1) it’s a swift 82-minute listen, and 2) it apparently comes fully loaded with its own soundtrack – performed nicely by the FourPlay String Quartet. The book itself, in print form, is apparently a very nice package to thumb through, adroitly illustrated by Eddie Campbell, whose artwork adorns the cover of this particular audio piece.
The story tells the tale of a mysterious small man – a dwarf, by some accounts – who is seeking the assistance of a villager, Callum MacInnes, a man known to have visited the mysterious cave of gold in the Black Mountains. The dwarf, who is our narrator, seeks to hire him as his guide. The gold has its own tale to tell; those who have entered the cave and taken its gold find that whatever purpose they find for their purloined treasure, there is no joy or happiness to be gotten from it. Callum explains this to the dwarf, warning him that nothing good will come of it – he himself used his gold to buy a nice parcel of land, build a lovely house, woo and marry a beautiful woman, and sire a loving son – but he himself is without joy. He is destined to live the rest of his days this way.
Eventually, Callum agrees to serve as the dwarf’s guide, but on one condition: he himself will not enter the cave. He will bring the dwarf to the foot of the cave, and allow him to spend as much time as needed within, but the dwarf is to understand that Callum must not enter, and that the dwarf himself can only take out what he himself can carry. The dwarf readily agrees.
The trek to the island on which the misty Black Mountains rest fills up the first half of the little story. On the way, we learn a little more about the guide – not much about his history, but about his nature. We also learn that he has hidden quite a dark secret from everyone, even his own wife, but is coaxed by the dwarf into telling the tale, a tale of a life he took inadvertently, an act that continues to play a role in his own life. It is when the two arrive at the mouth of the cave, after a few misadventures and questionable actions, that we start to get an understanding of the dwarf’s motivations and how he will choose to spend his time digging through the gold in the cave. We are greeted with a number of sides of the dwarf throughout the book, and eventually come to understand his actions by the tale’s end, even if we might not agree with them.
The book is peppered throughout with indications of what’s to come. Still, and even though the ending was no surprise, the whole package left me breathless when it had finished. Bravo, Neil Gaiman.
The audio book may pale in comparison with the print version, and getting to enjoy the illustrations provided by Campbell – in fact, listening to it made me vow to seek out the printed version to be able to see how well Campbell did – but those of us who are able to hear the audio version are given the additional treat of the music of the FourPlay String Quartet. They are as much like the Kronos Quartet as ever I’ve had a chance to experience; this seems to be the perfect book for their performing ability – their strings tickle the listener’s emotions as much as the reader. And oh, what a reader!
Gaiman doesn’t simply read the story, he performs it. As its author, he knows the inflections he was after, the cadence of the dialogue, the crests and waves of the flow that pitch us forward and back in our seat as we listen to his telling of the tale. His voice is a slice of butter-and-honey toast: all smooth and sweet and lovely to taste, but quick to turn into a sharp bit of crust when you least expect it. God, does he get it right throughout the story.
Doc thoroughly enjoyed this story. He understands that his man-crush on All Things Gaiman probably is playing its role in the final verdict, but because of the duration, presentation, and story telling, we’ve gotta give this one a solid A. Highly, highly recommended. This might be tied with “Meddling Kids” for my favorite book of the year so far.