Goth Girl: The Ghost of a Mouse
(Goth Girl #1)
by Chris Riddell
Macmillan Children’s Books, 2013
Middle Grade, Age 8-14
This is the first book relating the adventures of the daughter of Lord Goth, who inhabits Ghastly-Gorm Hall, a true gothic, (with tongue-in-cheek,) with poor Ada, neglected by her father, living alone in an endless castle. For those who are familiar with it, the series seems quite highly influenced by Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. Something I don’t see too often, and grab hold tightly of when I do.
This book is an experience. The gothic dark-adventure/comedy is housed in a hardcover with pages lines in metallic purple, binding pages done in ornate Victorian silver skulls. It is a signature Chris Riddell book for fans of the Ottoline series, with humorous illustrations in the corners and it even includes a small miniature comic book on the back cover, Memoirs of a Mouse, written by the ghost mouse, Ishmael.
Exploring Secret Garden and the even more secret garden and sliding down banisters as part of her everyday routine, Ada Goth’s world is populated by uniquely bizarre characters, many of whom are ghosts. My favorite is the “Arctic Explorer” living out in the old ice house, who seems to have been pieced pieced together. He is intelligent, and friendly enough, keeping his own pet albatross in true ancient mariner fashion.
Ada’s mother is dead, and she reminds her father so much of his dear wife Parthenope, he has asked Ada to wear clomping, oversized boots so that he can avoid her, (he believes children should be heard and not seen,). But quietly explores at night in her mother’s tightrope walking slippers (she used to be a ballerina).
The corridors were long and dark and cobwebby, with dozens of doors lining the walls. Most of the rooms were empty, with peeling wallpaper and crumbling plaster ceilings, but a few were filled with old, forgotten things– the sorts of things Ada liked best.
The curtain rises just as it is time for the 6th Lord Goth’s annual indoor hunt, and Ada is surprised to bump into two other children. She is soon introduced to an enclave of kids called the Attic Club, made up of Arthur Halford, (hobby) Horse Groom, Kingsley, Chimney Sweep, Ruby, the outer pantry maid, Emily (an artist) & William, (who has chameleonic skin,) both children of the live-in inventor Dr. Cabbage.
The club decides it is necessary to follow Maltravers, the indoor gamekeeper, who usually raises miniature pheasants for the hunt. Because of his shady behavior, they discover that hidden in the Bathroom of Zeus, (the place names in this book are treasures,) is Sesta the Siren and the Harpies who have been fooled into coming to the mansion. We suspect they are to be the game this year as the kids also find a faun and a shetland centaur in the stables, not to mention the Wildman of Putney and the Wife of Barnes, great apes stashed in the Greenhouse of Harmony.
On the day of the big event, A parade of characters show up for the Metaphorical Bicycle Race and The Indoor Hunt; Mary Shellfish, The poets Molebridge and O”Quincy, Tristram Shandygentleman, Lady George, Dr. Jensen & MacDuff, and Martin Puzzlewit, all overshadowed by the great Von Hellsung (who we know has made clandestine payments to Maltravers…)
Ada has just welcomed a new fencing governess from the psychic agency named Lucy Borgia who happens to be a vampire, and who Ada hopes can set things straight. Alas, at the great feast, she is doused with garlic bread. Will the evil Rupert Von Hellsung take the heads of the mythical creatures to hang, stuffed in his lodge?
The Memoirs of a Mouse is provided at the end, a cartoon booklet written by Ishmael Whiskers about his travels. Though Ada’s friend is reminiscent of Thomas of The Deptford Mice series, the story is really that of Gulliver, told in rhyme.