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The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Eddie Campbell, is neither pure prose nor a graphic novel. It is a story with pictures, unlike any other that I have come across before. Both the language and artwork are dark, rich and deep; evocative of the Scottish islands in which the tale is set. It moved me in a way that unsettled yet delighted; brutal, mystical, a parable for our time.

I do not read e-books. I have no problem if others choose to consume their literature in this way but, for me, there is something special in holding a physical book. The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountain is a thing of tactile beauty, a book that deserves time and appreciation for so much more than the tale which it tells. Some pages have few words, the artwork saying all that is needed to draw the reader in. Other pages paint the pictures with prose that is sparse yet efficacious. The occasional use of comic strips is effective proof that this medium should not be casually dismissed.

The book is a story of two men on a journey, strangers travelling to a cave filled with cursed treasure to which only one knows the way. It is a tale of greed and survival, but conveys so much more. At its heart is loss, a tragedy, a desire for revenge, and the ultimate shallowness of achieving that for which we yearn.

It will not take long to read, but expect what unfolds to remain as the contents are pondered over time. It is a book that should be read, reread, flicked through and discussed with others. It has touched me in a way that few books do, an assault on the mind and the senses, powerful, harsh, but above all alluring.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.
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on 15 December 2014
"I will not forgive myself for the year that I hated my daughter..."

This is my favourite book of the year. Yep, there. I said it. I read it in one sitting, and I could have read it again and again and again. It left me reeling. I finished the book, closed it, and the first thing out of my mouth was, "Oh my God..."

I was breathless, and overjoyed that I found a book that could still make me react this way! What an amazing story. It made me feel like a child again. We start out with that great opening, about a father who can pretty much forgive himself for anything, except for that year he hated his daughter. At that point we don't understand why or how or what or anything. We are simply taken onto this journey as he begins his search for a cave in the black mountains. This father who is barely bigger than a child in size, is actually strong and clever.

He is able to convince a man to guide him to that cave, knowing that the man has been there many years before. This man agrees, but refuses to go into the cave with him. The cave is said to have so much gold, but when you come out of it, you are forever changed, as if a part of your soul is dead.

Throughout this journey we learn many things about both man and midget, and the ending is so dark and twisted, I was on the edge of my seat. Absolutely wonderful.

Bravo Neil Gaiman. I am SO impressed.
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"I am old now, or at least, I am no longer young, and everything I see reminds me of something else I've seen, such that I see nothing for the first time. A bonny girl, her head fiery-red, reminds me only of another hundred such lasses, and their mothers, and what they were as they grew, and what they looked like when they died. It is the curse of age, that all things are reflections of other things"

Fabulous weaver of weird and wonderful stories for adults and children Neil Gaiman wrote this short story/novella The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, which was published in a collection of creepy dark stories: Stories: All New Tales, by Headline, back in 2010.

Then this story by Gaiman developed another life, when he was invited to read his story aloud, and with projected artwork by Eddie Campbell, with a musical underscore by FourPlay String Quartet at the graphic Festival at Sydney Opera House.

Now Headline have reduced the experience back down to the individual reading experience - a book, a story on the page, that artwork, condensed into a wonderful weaving of seductive and dark words, sensuous and sometimes scary images, and the tactile experience of silky, glossy pages, hardcover, slightly textured titling. The book as craft, art, and beautiful object as well as wondrous words and a story like some well-honed myth, handed down through generations.

This is a journey through the Highlands, a journey made by two stern men, both with hidden secrets. The un-named narrator is a small fierce man. His companion, Calum MacInnes, is a tall, gaunt one. And there appears to be distrust of the other, from both sides, as they set out to find hidden gold which may be cursed

Artist Eddie Campbell's artworks are gorgeous, and varied in style, ranging from graphic, solid broad-brush stroked figures which are almost cartoon in simplicity, to some lovely part-shaded, part outline, suggestions of shapes, which appear to flicker out from misty, pastel backgrounds. I particularly like the fact that the textured background Campbell must originally have used is visible, a wash across all pages, so that the use of colour is subtle and varied.

This is really not a book to get on ereader - the subtlety of texture, the vibrancy of colour and shape need to be appreciated in the larger size of a book's pages.

I was extremely fortunate to be offered this by Headline, as a review copy.

My only regret is that I missed knowing about this book till a few days after Neil Gaiman, Eddie Campbell and Foursquare repeated the performed event of the story. Seeing these illustrations stage sized, having the author read his tale aloud and with the underscore, sitting rapt with others whilst this played out, must have been a magnificent occasion
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on 20 July 2014
This is a lovely book, the pages, binding, cover and art all remind us why there is still a place for hardcover books, and that there are things which e-books cant replicate - although they of course have other different possibilities.

This is a tale in true Gaiman style, somewhat dark, haunting, thought provoking... And above all interesting. I love the combination of writing and pictorial story telling - the comic or graphic novel meets the conventional novel - it works very well.

It is a story of two travellers on a quest, but things are not what they seem, and the reader will visit the dark places and remember them long after the book is finished.
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on 17 June 2014
Thank you to Headline for providing me with a copy of this book

I have never read a book quite like this and to be honest it is extremely unlikely I will again, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is a beautiful book, I was lucky enough to see the hardback version and it is just divine.

Neil Gaiman who some of you may know as the author of Stardust, American Gods and many others initially released the text from this book back in 2010 but he has now come together with illustrator Eddie Campbell to produce a really dark magical story, I toyed with the idea of reading it with my oldest daughter whose is seven but at the last minute decided to savour it all by myself, I am glad as it may have been a little dark for her young tastes, saying that she is obsessesed with finding out about Macbeth so maybe I should have!

The story is set in the highlands of my beautiful country Scotland back in what felt like Jacobite times, men still wear kilts and women do what they are told, both text and illustration takes us on the journey of a man who is different to everyone else, he is a dwarf, he takes a journey with his sought out companion to find the mysterious Misty Isle and the cave that is hidden shrouded in the gloom and is said to hold riches, their path ahead is fraught with dangers both human and not so.

The two companions make an unlikely pairing but will they succeed in their journey and will the cave hold what they have been seeking?

This book has been inspired by the beautiful and magical island of Skye a place I have been lucky enough to visit several times, the illustrations that appear on every page truly add to the story bringing to life the dark haunting journey of these two men and who and what they meet on their way to the Misty Isle.

A gorgeous dark read.

Awarded 5 out of 5
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"You ask me if I can forgive myself? I can forgive myself for many things. For where I left him. For what I did. But I will not forgive myself for the year that I hated my daughter..."

So starts this dark tale of a journey, a quest into the Black Mountains to find a cave - to find the truth. Our narrator is a small man, a dwarf, but he's strong and he's driven; by what, we don't yet know but we feel a slow anger in him, an undiminished determination despite his ten year search for the object of his obsession. As we meet him, he is about to hire a guide, Calum MacInnes, to take him to a cave on the Misty Isle which is reputed to be filled with gold...

This book is nothing less than stunning. Gaiman's wonderfully dark story is equalled and enhanced by the amazingly atmospheric illustrations of Eddie Campbell. The two elements - words and pictures - are completely entwined. There's no feeling of the one being an addition to the other - each is essential and together they form something magical. The tale is by turns moving, mystical, dramatic, frightening; and the illustrations, many of them done in very dark colours, create a sense of mirky gloom and growing apprehension and, as the story darkens, some of the later pictures are truly macabre and unforgettable.

Gaiman was apparently inspired to write the story by his visits to the Isle of Skye and the legends of the Hebrides. While the pictures quite clearly place the story in the Highlands - the kilts, the purples and greens, the blackness of the mountains - Gaiman has very wisely steered clear of any attempt to 'do' dialect. The book is written in standard English, but with the lush layering of traditional legends and with a rhythm in the words that really calls for it to be read aloud. Perhaps this isn't surprising since the story was originally devised to be read by Gaiman himself at the Sydney Opera House with Campbell's illustrations projected as a backdrop. I was the lucky, lucky recipient of a hardback copy of the book, but apparently the Kindle Fire edition has audio and video links, though to what I don't know. However, the book is so beautiful that, devoted though I am to my Kindle, this is one where I would strongly recommend the paper version.

All the way through, the story is foreshadowing the eventual end as if to suggest that all things are fore-ordained. It's well worth reading the book twice in fact (it's only 73 pages) - the first reading has all the tension of not knowing how it ends, while the second reading allows the reader to see how carefully Gaiman fits everything together to create the folk-tale feeling of inevitability. And then read it again a third time, just because it's wonderful. I end where I began - stunning!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Headline.
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on 23 July 2014
Set on the Isle of Skye in Scotland a long time ago, a dwarf visits a man who knows the location of a cave far away in the mountains - a cave that contains gold to make a man rich for a lifetime. So begins the pair’s perilous quest into the darkness ahead…

I know Neil Gaiman has a LOT of female fans, legions of them who probably outnumber the male fans, so it’s going to be interesting to see their reaction to this book as the female characters - all two of them - are treated very badly.

Gail Simone’s theory of the woman in the fridge - when a female character is maimed and/or killed in order to advance a male character’s story - is very pertinent here as the death of a woman is the driving motivation behind this book. Meanwhile, the other female character is beaten and raped while our two “heroes” do their best to ignore it rather than step in. I suppose you could argue that it’s Gaiman showing the readers his narrator’s complexity as a character - that he would do so much for one female character but not for another.

Short stories really are Gaiman’s forte. His novels are uneven but I find his short story collections - Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things - to be outstanding and he excels in The Truth is a Cave… in crafting a story that’s part folk/fairy tale and part horror with some powerful real human moments too.

The story builds in a satisfyingly slow burn, starting in a way that feels like you know where it’s headed with some strange images popping up that, in hindsight, reveal themselves to be increasingly relevant foreshadowings as the tale unwinds so that you shouldn’t be surprised when the story takes a left turn and then another, but you are. Little moments like the dwarf running nimbly ahead of the man seem oddly magical under Gaiman’s hand while the fantastical, like what lies within the cave, seem terribly real.

The book’s genesis started when Gaiman offered to read the story at the Graphic Literary Festival in the Sydney Opera House in 2010 with artist Eddie Campbell providing pictures to be shown behind Gaiman as he read accompanied by a string quartet playing background music (I know, very… art-y!). Since then, Campbell’s added to the pictures until there were enough to create this book which is a bit like an illustrated novella, a bit like a comic, and a bit like a picture book, while never being either one!

Campbell’s painted images are very beautiful and suits the fantastical, scenic story with page after page celebrating nature and the forbidding, isolated atmosphere of the tale. He also experiments with his style to alternately shift from paint to inks to incorporating photographs into his pictures at various moments. Certain times through the story he’ll resort to comic panelling. I quite like Campbell’s art so I had no complaints about his work on this book except for one thing - the lettering in those panels.

It’s definitely true that you never notice how important lettering is in a comic until you read one which has bad lettering, and I was surprised at how poorly lettered Campbell’s panels were, especially considering his lengthy career in comics. Scratchy, shaky letters done in a spidery hand that looked rushed, they were the only aspect of this book that let the reader down.

The Truth is a Black Cave in the Black Mountains isn’t a perfect book but it is a highly compelling one. It’s an evocative story of revenge and death with fantastic paintings that lend new energy and interpretation to Gaiman’s haunting tale. His female fans may find their lips curling in disgust at times but when the story is this good, it’s hard to keep from turning the pages until you find out what happens in the end. A great horror fable from a brilliant short story writer with a terrific artistic collaborator.
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on 7 July 2014
I am not long back from the Usher Hall, where I was lucky enough to experience this tale performed by Neil Gaimen, accompanied by the gorgeous visuals of Eddie Campbell and the unearthly score from FourPlay (am amazing string quartet from Australia...check out their music if you get the chance, it is truly evocative). The event took my breath away and I hope a DVD is released at some point, or preferably, another live tour. As this was the last date on the tour however, I would highly recommend this book, along with the audio book, so you can listen to Mr Gaimens dulcet tones and immerse yourself in the artwork and eeries sounds.

If your budget does not stretch to both, then your preferred method of literary consumption should dictate your purchase choice. I am addicted to audio books, especially if read by Gaimen. During the performance, I also found my attention focused on the sounds over the visuals. That being said, the visuals were expertly rendered with the Scottish colour palette and almost minimalist in design. They definitely added to the overall impact of the story.

Spoiler free: The story is linked with Scottish island mythos and legend. We follow a diminutive stranger and his guide on a quest to find the titular black mountain cave. This is a perilous journey and as the protagonists progress, the intricacies of the plot unravel around them. If you have read anything by Mr Gaimon, then you understand how complex and obscure his characters tend to be, with more and more details unfolding the longer you spend with them.

I was gripped from start to finish and believe whichever of the options you choose, you will be in for a treat.
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on 5 November 2016
I loved the story, really disliked the artwork.

I don’t often read graphic novels, but when I do, the illustrations are so, so important to me. And I so badly wanted to love this one, but I couldn’t. The story was fantastic – it’s Gaiman; how could it not be? – but the artwork struck me as crude, and not in an artistic way. It seemed rushed, almost. And there are two different styles of artwork in this graphic novel, in different types of panel, which again threw me off. The combination of art and text did not mesh well, in my opinion, and it was very jarring at times.

Saying that, though, I am fond of the story. I am fond of Gaiman’s work full stop. This tale did not disappoint in the least. There was plenty of magic and mystery to be found in there, and despite some of the story being told through the crude artwork, it was a story that I am glad to have read. It’s a quick read for an afternoon, especially if you like your stories to have a little folk-esque aspect to them.
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on 26 July 2014
I saw a live performance of this work in London and wanted to recreate the magic of the night. This rendition is spoken in exactly the same way and the music matches the mood exactly. However it is the modern fairy tale story which is exceptional. You can read this as a book with pictures or listen to the reading while reading so you get the music too. However unlike an audiobook it doesn't run on, you have to restart it after each section.
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