Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Nameless House of the Night of Dread Desire
by Neil Gaiman
& Illustrated by Shane Oakley
Dark Horse Publishing, 2017
This short story is an art piece; the illustrations are purposely confusing and shadowy in a rough-angled way, perhaps to imply that we will never understand what is truly going on, that there are hidden secrets behind what we see. The story depicts realism in shades of sepia and gray while the writer himself lives in a world of rich, deep color.
The graphic novel takes all of ten minutes to read; less, except for the difficulty in making out the small hand-scrawled cursive. Do people use cursive any more? Are children taught how to write or even read in script? It successfully draws us back into a long-lost era.
The story is about a scrivener, a poet, who writes realism while living surrounded by dreary loneliness in a world of gothic romance: women in peril with deformed aunts in the attic and things that chitter behind the wainscoting– but, finding himself parodying the tropes of his craft without intention, he decides that it may perhaps be time to turn to fantasy. Worlds of drab fancy filled with accountants and mortgages, computers and cars.
The book’s cover captures its essence, but my favorite image is the final frame that features a purple toad in a swamp, the ancient estate looming, silhouetted in the storm clouds above. It is a charming book for those of us who love stories of women running from mansions with a single lit window, governesses, and most of all… secrets.