Book Review: Welcome to Night Vale

Charlotte Huggins: Welcome to Night Vale is known for combining surreal humour and existential horror, and these exist in the novel in abundance.

23rd November 2015

This is a review - it is a collection of words telling you about another collection of words and if that is a worthwhile collection of words to spend an amount of currency on.

   You see the review, flicking through the paper when you’re meant to be reading something else. You may, even, decide to read it. You will don your crown of pigeon feathers, emit a low hum, and carefully read every word, occasionally stopping to nod, or narrow your eyes, or tut. Afterwards you will say “Hm”. Finally, you carefully tear the review from the paper, inch by inch, until it is a neat square of thin paper in your palm. Then you eat it. Then you go on to forget you ever read it - just another piece of information in a world of far too much of it. This is, after all, standard review-reading etiquette.

    Well, it is in Night Vale. It is a town like any other - one where girl scouts lead revolutions against blood-soaked business people, angels totally do not exist, old oak doors lead to a strange desert otherworld, and absolutely nobody is allowed in the dog park.

    This sleepy desert town is the setting of the recently released novel Welcome to Night Vale, based on the popular podcast of the same name. The novel departs from the podcast’s usual radio show format, and instead two minor characters take centre stage: pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro, and single mother Diane Crayton.

    Jackie is plagued by a piece of paper pawned at her shop, one that reads simply KING CITY., that she can’t get out of her hand. Diane is desperate to find a man that vanished from her office, one that nobody else can remember, as well as deal with a teenage son that keeps shapeshifting and asking awkward questions about his father.

    Both protagonists are interesting, fully realised, and enjoy fascinating relationships with their families and provide a sharp contrast to one another. Diane’s relationship with her son is especially well-written, exploring with humour and sensitivity the love and frustration strained between teenagers and their well-meaning but overbearing parents.   

   Fans of the podcast will be glad to see a wide range of Night Vale’s most prominent citizens, such as Steven Carlsberg, Old Woman Josie, John Peters (you know, the farmer?), and, of course, beautiful Carlos. However, newcomers will be gratified to know that no previous knowledge of the podcast is needed to understand a thing.

   What you do need is an appreciation for Weirdness (capital W). Welcome to Night Vale is known for combining surreal humour and existential horror, and these exist in the novel in abundance. Some may find it just a little too out there, but for people who love the creepy and the strange, it’s an absolute gift. Welcome to Night Vale strikes a great balance between weirdness and touching explorations of themes such as family and identity, and I’ll admit it choked me up more than once.

    For fans of the podcast, the book is an essential buy. For those new to Night Vale, maybe check out an episode or consult your bloodstone circle first.

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