Welcome to Night Vale. A novel (The Audiobook)

I am very proud to announce that I have just finished my first audiobook! My problem with those is that I tend to let my thoughts wander, consequently missing out on some major parts of the story, which in Night Vale is every single word. No seriously, if you drift off for just a second and then focus on the story again it will have moved on from why sugar is good for children to describe why ducks are not to be trusted and probably out to kill you.

Please be aware that if you have no knowledge whatsoever of the famous podcast ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ you might be very confused by this review. You might also not be. However, you can also enjoy the novel and then the podcast if empty confusion mingled with an unknown fear is your kind of thing. I don’t judge.

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Content: This story is about Diane Crayton, single mother and office worker (not the blood-covered type!). Her ever shape-shifting son Josh is all she really cares about, but lately there seems to be some miscommunication between the two. And when Evan – or was it Emmet? – from the office seemingly ceases to exist things get tricky. Even for Night Vale.

This story is also about Jackie Fierro, 19- year old owner of the Night Vale pawnshop. Life is good and well until a man in a tanned leather jacket holding a deer-skinned suitcase hands her a piece of paper.

KING CITY, the paper says.

Hello listeners!

Cecil here. Your voice from the darkness. The quiet whisper in your empty night. Speaking to you now from a booth at the Night Vale Community Radio Station. Here to bring you all the news and community goings on that you need to know and hide from you all the forbidden and dangerous knowledge.

Ever since I moved to another town I have to take the bus to work, which was the perfect opportunity to finally get some listening done. ‘Why doesn’t she just read the book, then?’, some of you might wonder, rolling their eyes. Well, Night Vale might be the only novel that I absolutely could not read. Not when Cecil Baldwin (the actor, not the radio host) could be reading it to me! He has such a rich, soothing voice that manages to catch your attention completely. I actually can’t think of a better way to spend a twenty-minute bus drive than making weird and confused faces as Cecil talks about Night Vale.

Diane was enjoying listening to Cecil. She loved the end of his show were he said ‘Good night, Night Vale. Good night’. No matter how difficult her life was or how troublesome the news he was reporting, his voice and his sign-off put her at such ease.

I apologise for the content part not being so informative but that is due to the simple fact that it is so hard to describe it without giving away too much. I am in no way overreacting when I say that I finally understood why the story was unfolding this way, or rather, what red string it was even following,  when it was spelled out to me in the ninth out of ten CDs. Which is completely fine since I am used to complete bafflement and constant frowning due to the podcast’s weirdness.

The story starts off with the odd and complex ritual of pawning an item and from then on out it just kind of … flows. We hear about Jackie’s life at the pawn shop, giving people 11 dollars for their items – each item in fact. We learn that she is 19 years old and has been for decades. We accompany her through days at the shop, feet propped up on the counter. We follow her home after she buries her doors so they won’t get stolen and we listen to Cecil Palmer on the radio with her.

Then there is Diane who struggles to communicate with her son Josh, who is at a difficult age, not yet knowing who he is and thus taking a different form every day. What is troubling him the most, though, is the question who his father is and he gets irritated at the court and block-like answers Diane gives him. He really doesn’t understand why Diane would want to protect him from his father or rather the disappointment he would probably feel when meeting him. As if her private life would not be in enough turmoil already, Evan, who works at her office suddenly slips everyone’s memory and also her own seems to have trouble remembering Emmet … Evan  correctly. And of course, Diane wants to get to the bottom of this so she can carry on with her life without worry.

Basically, we get a really really deep look into Diane’s and Jackie’s lives and of course learn a whole lot of new things about Night Vale we didn’t know yet. More animals which are illegal to acknowledge existing and certainly more peculiar societal conventions. More educated tarantulas, certainly.

The story then becomes more complicated and confusing when a man in a tanned jacket holding a deer-skin suitcase hands Jackie a piece of paper that, no matter what she tries (burning it, burying it, eating it, ripping it up) won’t leave her hand. It propels her out of her well-scheduled, comfortable routine and forces her to find out why she had been given the slip of paper.

KING CITY, the paper says.

Jackie consults various people all over town to get rid of the paper. She talks to Old Woman Josie and the Erikas, who are definitely angels! (I don’t fear the Secret Police. I stand by the Erikas!) She talks to Carlos and his team of scientists. Carlos with his perfect hair and perfect teeth. And her way leads her ever closer to Diane’s tricky family situation.

Naturally, Diane’s and Jackie’s paths cross but the reader or listener is still trying to work out how their stories fit together because the strands seem so loose they can’t ever be able to connect. Once the two women meet up, you can but smile and think: well, that was obvious! Reluctantly, they team up to help one another with their problems only to find that what they thought were individual issues, was one big intertwined complication.

Their research takes them into the life-threatening and dangerous public library teeming with the gruesome librarians which in my opinion was one of the best parts of the book. We have never been in the public library but we all have heard the tales: BOOKS ARE DANGEROUS! That’s it. That’s the entire tale.

What I probably liked even more than the library, were the chapters titled The Voice Of Night Vale because that was Cecil Palmer (the radio host, not the actor but also the actor because he speaks Cecil Palmer) talking to his listeners about the news and the presenting the Community Calender and telling us our horoscopes and so on. No weather forecast. There was a difference in his voice acting and I while I adored the ‘regular’ parts of the audio book, those podcast-like chapters were even better due to Cecil’s acting. Like icing on the cake.

Night Vale has always done a particular good job with representing minorities or the queer community, as well as breaking down stereotypes or touching upon topics that are considered taboo. So I was not surprised but rather appreciative of how deep they delved into the struggle of being a single mother of a son who wants to meet his father. On the one hand Diane knows it is Josh’s right to meet him but on the other hand she only wants to protect Josh. We listen as their already unstable relationship crumbles even more under the pressure and how they try to fix it. I thought that was really well done.

We met so many new different and diverse people and even get to have a glimpse outside Night Vale – not Desert Bluffs – and it’s great. Just about the right mixture between new faces and our favourite well-known, recurring characters. I immediately felt at home once Cecil started speaking and listening to Jackie and Diane’s journey and adventure was a great experience I had been forced to go through by the Sheriff’s Secret Police.

What can you expect in the novel? Ducks. A dove. Helen Hunt. Cardbord phones. DEATH! (probably). Pangs of sonder. The thrill of the chase. Leann Hart & Hatchets. Pink plastic flamingos. Responsibility (aw, don’t we all hate that). Teeth like a military cemetery. Tragic childhoods. Librarians. ANGELS! Education brought to young tarantulas. Patches of haze. Science. Breathing.

The ending was absolutely stunning and I don’t want to spoil anything so I will just finish this review off. Know that I had to smile throughout the last few paragraphs. It was a well-done, rounded ending that left me with a little aching sadness in my chest which could have been the radiation I have been exposed to or, nostalgia but the likelihood for such a feeling to even exist tends towards zero.

And as always …

Good night, Night Vale. Good night.

Favourite characters: Jackie Fierro, Leann Hart, Diane Crayton, Emmet/Evan, every single Erika, Josie

Conclusion: I simply adore Night Vale. It is weird, it is dangerous and absolutely bonkers but I love it. Go on, read it. It is mandatory as Director of Emergency Press Conferences Pamela Winchell stated today as she called an emergency press conference. There were no follow-up questions as people started to scream in terror for no apparent reason.

No, seriously. Read it.

Quotes: Read it. Just read the book!

Details about the audiobook:

  • Writers: Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor
  • Narrator(s): Cecil Baldwin, Dylan Marron, Retta, Therese Plummer, Dan Bittner
  • Length: 12 Hours 2 Minutes
  • CDs: 10
  • Release Date: 20.10.2015
  • Publishing House: Harper Audio
  • ISBN: 978-0062351463
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