The Doll’s House
Six Word Summary: Serial Killer Conventions for the win!
I Rate It: 9/10
I started the Sandman Journey on Rivers I Have Known last month with Preludes and Nocturnes, and left off with a promise that things are about to get even more awesome. The Doll’s House lives up to that promise delightfully, with a complex storyline, amazing artwork, and an unforgettable narration.
The book starts with a textual retelling of the previous adventure, and though he is not explicitly named, it’s pretty clear our sombre narrator is Destiny, Eldest of the Endless. This adds to the Doll’s House’s uniqueness because none of the others in the series I have read so far have recaps.
The first chapter, “Tales in the Sand”, is a folk story, an oral history passed on from generation to generation as a coming of age rite in some unspecified African desert country. It is the story of Queen Nada, and her doomed love affair with the Dream King. We had a glimpse of Nada during Dream’s trip to hell in the first book (issue: A Hope in Hell). This section not just explains the meaning of that encounter but acts as a prologue for Book 4 (A Season of Mists). I loved that Dream has the appearance of an African man when he is interacting with Nada, and I was also captivated by the idea that the men and women of the tribe have different versions of the story that they don’t share with each other. Since we get to hear just one version, it remains in the realms of possibility that there is a lot about this story that we don’t fully know or understand.
The actual storyline begins in a different realm, that of Desire of the Endless. Desire, who is a very creepy immortal, is described as a being of alternating sex, and so beautiful that once you know him/her/it, you can think of nothing else. Unfortunately, the art makes her look like a trannie. Desire plots with her twin sister Despair, a fat, naked, hideous woman with skin like a drowned person’s, to bring about the destruction of Dream, whom she hates it seems. (that’s strange, you’d think dream and desire work together. Just goes to show the Endless are quite like us after all, at least in things like sibling rivalry)
Then we go on to meet Rose Walker, perky young American visiting UK with her mom to meet Unity Kinkaid (the girl who spent most of her life asleep in the first book). She is about to find out that she is the grandchild of Unity’s coma-rape, and that isn’t the only way her life is about to change. Reunited with her dying grandmother, Rose sets out to find her lost brother, temporarily putting up in the titular doll’s house, a paying guest facility with the weirdest possible residents ever- a drag queen, two veiled women who collect spiders, the frighteningly normal yuppie couple Barbie and Ken who are so perfect for each other that they can complete each other’s sentences, and the corpulent knight-errant like Gilbert Green, who seems to have been modeled on G K Chesterton, and who takes a shine to Rose.
Meanwhile, in the Dream Country, Morpheus is still busy rebuilding his kingdom. A census reveals that four major dreams have escaped into the mortal world during his absence, of which the most worrisome is the Corinthian, a nightmare of unspeakable terrors. He also learns of the existence of a dream vortex, an entity that has the power to break the walls between dreams of individuals, and that must be destroyed to maintain the equilibrium of dreaming. Dream identifies the vortex to be Rose Walker, though she doesn’t know this herself. Dream sets out to locate her and the prodigal dreams.
Just as 24 Hours was the chilling core of the first book, the issue “The Collectors” is the soul scarring centre of this one. It details a convention of serial killers in a hotel in the middle of a hick town. Attended by psychopath killers from all over the country, it manages to be as creepy as fuck even before the Corinthian, an eyeball eating predator of young boys in his human form, joins in on the fun. The light, casual tone of the humour, and the normal banter, actually adds to the scariness. Rose Walker, along with Gilbert who accompanies her in her search for her brother, are the only guests at the hotel who are not one of the ‘collectors’, and in fact are clueless about them. I confess I was up all night after reading The Collectors, too scared to even go pee, but I reread it as soon as it was light enough for me to feel brave again.
In contrast, the side story “Men of Good Fortune” is almost heart-warming in its depiction of the growing friendship between a man and and Endless. In 1389, Dream and Death are sitting in a tavern when they hear a soldier boast that he plans to never die. The two endless mutually decide to treat this as an experiment, and with Death’s consent, Dream asks the man to meet him in the same tavern in a hundred years. Thus granted an indefinitely extended life, Robert ‘Hob’ Gadling keeps his rendezvous with dream once every century, right up to 1989. We see his fortunes rise and fall drastically, his attitude towards life changes remarkably over 600 years, but not even once does he lose his lust to go on living. Neil Gaiman uses the backdrop of each meeting to depict the aspects of British life that changed enormously and those that remained pretty much the same. It’s quite an intriguing, adorable piece.
One thing I rather liked about this book and the Sandman in general is that the Endless are not shown as moral gods of retribution. They merely do their duty, and punish only those that get in the way.
I also really liked the depiction of when Rose’s vortex is unleashed and we can see the dreams of everyone in the doll’s house as they begin to leak into each other. Our dreams say a lot more about us than our physical appearances and our outward behavior. Two people uncannily similar could have diametrically opposite types of dreams, and someone as plain vanilla and airheaded as a Barbie could have a rich, magical land of dreaming. It is heartening to know we will be seeing a lot more of Barbie’s dream world in a later book. I look forward to meeting the giant dog Martin Tenbones again, and also the ever enchanting Gilbert Green.
Those of you who are terribly bored of graphic novels, take heart, I’ll be back again this very week with a Murakami review. The rest, stay tuned, we have a long walk up the paths of the Dreaming ahead.
-Amritorupa “an eye for an eye” Kanjilal
I use Grammarly for online proofreading because it shows me the error of my ways.