Airiz C's Reviews > Harlequin Valentine

Harlequin Valentine by Neil Gaiman
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's review
Jun 25, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: graphic-novel, surreal, horror, fantasy, dark-humor, gaimanic-disorder
Recommended for: readers who like weird romances, readers familiar with Comedia dell'arte/Brit Pantomime

Would you give your heart to someone for Valentines’ Day—literally? Neil Gaiman’s buffoonish Harlequin certainly will. In this romantically twisted re-imagining of Comedia dell’Arte and the British Pantomime, Gaiman once again proved that he is a wizard of storytelling. Couple that with John Bolton’s adroit hands with a palette of colors and what you get is a little literary treasure that will leave a lingering feeling in you after you turn the last page.

Harlequin Valentine follows the story of the Harlequin, who nails his heart to the door as a valentine gift for his Columbine, Missy. The contrast between the characters is like black and white: Harlequin is very romantic and fickle, while his Columbine is practical and sensible. Bolton’s amazing depiction of the juxtaposition is spot-on, since his illustrations really resonate with the personalities of the characters. I like how he blends some bright photo-realism to his actual paintings and contrast them with the subdued backdrop. Columbine tries to figure out what she will do to the heart as she puts it in a sandwich bag; Harlequin meanwhile stalks her and falls more deeply in love. The storyline becomes more interesting as it becomes peppered with characters from the Comedia and the Pantomime, including Doctor and Pantaloon, and of course Pierott. This is like role-assigning actually, since the Harlequin only thinks of the characters in the people he is encountering during his little adventure.

I’ve read Gaiman’s longer works, and what I’ve noticed is that he has different attitudes in writing them compared to the short stories. His novels are riveting, leaving an ecstatic hangover to those who read them. Mostly Gaiman takes time in unveiling all the parts of the story, like carefully putting down the parts in the safe places in the middle of a mine field and guiding the readers to them. He said so himself, he’s not the kind of writer who pens stories that should be done in one-sitting. In writing short stories he is quite the opposite—brevity after all doesn’t favor that process. He deftly builds the plot with a touch of elegance, yet in the end drops it with a bomb that will leave the readers reeling at the end. It’s not the “I’m shocked” kind of bomb though—it’s the “It’s effect is still on me” kind. For something so short, the effect is surprisingly long-term.

That’s the effect of Harlequin Valentine on me.

I think this will be not enjoyed by people who are not entirely familiar with the Comedia/Pantomime. Even if there's a comprehensive sort-of guide that came with this format, I think readers will still be confused.

Anyway, as for the whole idea of "switches" (spoilery so I'll say nothing more than that), I'm not sure if this is the first story where he applied that concept. I mean, I've seen it in American Gods and a short film, who knows if there's an earlier work where he used that? Not that it's much an issue of originality. It's still his idea though. *shrugs*

Four stars for a great read.
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