The City of Dreaming Books - Walter Moers

The City of Dreaming Books - Walter Moers, John Brownjohn

From the blurb:

Walter Moers transports us to a magical world where reading is still a genuine adventure, where books can not only entertain people but also drive them insane or kill them.

How could anyone resist that? The City of Dreaming Books is a tale about Optimus Yarnspinner, a budding writer of Lindworm Castle who finds his way into the labyrinths beneath Bookholm, a city dedicated to books and reading whose catacombs are populated by heavily-armed Bookhunters, mysterious and possibly deadly Booklings, and the enigmatic Shadow King. It's a book filled with books, a world in which books are a reason to live and die, a quest for inspiration.

 

As is often the case with novels that sound like the one thing you've ever wanted to read, The City of Dreaming Books fails to live up to expectation somewhat. Well, with a blurb like that, it would be extraordinary if it didn't. It's a fun read, something like a cross between Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and the Edge Chronicles (complete with wacky line drawings), and it's certainly imaginative in its creation of all the bookish horrors of Bookholm's labyrinths, but it never becomes more than that. Yarnspinner's quest as a writer never seems particularly convincing, and nor does his general characterisation: I couldn't tell you anything about what he is like as a person, or what he would say to you in the street. And he has virtually no meaningful interactions with any other character.

 

That's not to mention the blatant deus ex machinae (two of them) that bring about the denouement of the novel, nor the train of unlikely coincidences that dog Yarnspinner's footsteps throughout. By far my favourite part was the beginning: the descriptions of the bookish city were delightfully fascinating, and I think Bookholm may well be one of my favourite fictional cities. It was also kind of fun deciphering the various anagrams of authors' names - Aleisha Wimpersleake = William Shakespeare, etc.

 

The City of Dreaming Books is probably best read for atmosphere and inventiveness rather than deep characterisation and narrative satisfaction. A light, fun read, but nothing more.