I LOVE books with illustrations! Chris Riddell usually matches the exact tone of Gaiman’s storytelling with his illustrations. He blew me away with the black, silver and gold artwork in Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle, and if you haven’t read that one, I suggest you rush to the bookstores right now and get your hands on it!
Hansel and Gretel is illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti. I’m not familiar with him, so I googled to find out that he’s an Italian comic artist who had his works featured on Cosmopolitan and Vogue. As impressive as that might be, I cannot say I was half as impressed with his work on this book as I am with Riddell’s in every Neil Gaiman book he’s illustrated. The drawings are all in black, and while that creates a Gothic atmosphere, at times it’s difficult to decipher what he’s drawn. My satisfaction with the artwork went downhill with every page.
The subtitle of the book reads “A darkly brilliant fairy tale”. It was dark alright, but I kept waiting for the brilliant bit. It just never arrived. This version of the fairy tale is hardly any different from other versions that we are familiar with.
Mild Spoiler Alert! Keep reading if you don’t mind them. Or else skip the next paragraph
Gaiman gives us a famine, which forms the premise for the family’s poverty and leads them to abandon their kids. It also doesn’t explicitly mention that the witch the kids meet in the forest, is in fact, a witch. Perhaps this is to highlight that humans can do dark twisted things when desperate and starving. They can abandon their own and try to kill and eat innocent children. But that still does not explain how she could afford to have her house built out of gingerbread and other sugary treats in the middle of a famine.
What I did like was that after the story ends, the book documents the changing tale of Hansel and Gretel. It talks about when the story possibly originated, and how the story-line and characters changed with time and geography. In some versions, the mother becomes the stepmother, and in others creatures of the forest help the brother sister duo to escape, and others where the tale is wildly different! This bit was fascinating, but it didn’t really redeem this unimaginative version of the tale.
Overall, this book disappointed me. It had none of Gaiman’s usual charm and brilliance, and there was very little re-telling. That was not something I could accept, especially after The Sleeper and the Spindle with its darkly delicious twists and turns and fairy tale mashup! Not to mention, I sorely missed Chris Riddell.
Would I recommend reading it: Read it if you can borrow a copy from someone. Don’t bother splurging hard-earned money
Would I re-read: Nope!