A review by Nalini Haynes
Welcome to Night Vale began as a smash-hit cult podcast that has evolved into live performances touring the world (including coming to Melbourne next year) and now there’s a book.
The podcast is a community radio show hosted by Cecil Palmer, who shares the same first name as the actor, Cecil Baldwin, who has become his best-loved role. (For a taster, Cecil performs on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, video embedded at the bottom of the page.) Although the novel involves many other characters and is told from new points of view, Cecil’s broadcasts are included (in part) in the novel as soundtrack. Cecil also interacts with the characters on centre stage. Because newscasters and radio presenters see everything in Night Vale and talk about what you’re doing ON AIR.
Jackie runs the pawn shop. She’s been 19 years old for centuries and can’t remember doing anything else. The man in the tan jacket with the deerskin suitcase (a mysterious long-running character from the podcast/radio show) appears and gives Jackie a note saying “King City”. She puts the note down. It returns to her hand. She destroys it. It returns, undamaged, to her hand.
Diane Crayton works at a company whose purpose is unclear even to its employees. Two employees go missing. One returns. Only Diane remembers Evan, the other employee. Diane investigates.
Diane’s son, Josh, changes form regularly. Some teenagers change personality but Josh changes shape. Josh and Diane’s relationship is fraught with tension and misunderstandings, two lonely people trying to reach out to each other for a healthy relationship but falling short.
Josh starts looking for his father, Troy.
Diane doesn’t want Josh to find Troy but she accidentally runs into him. He runs away. She tries to catch him.
Jackie and Diane (yes, I know; it’s not like that) investigate separately and keep fouling each other’s searches. They unite to take on the library. Those librarians are terrifying…
The pacing and content of prose in Welcome to Night Vale is so consistent with the podcast that, when I began reading, I ‘heard’ the story in Cecil’s voice. Gradually that diminished as I engaged with new character points of view. Night Vale is the same wacky place, however, with references to iconic personalities like John Peter, you know, the farmer; the Mayor; Cecil’s boyfriend Carlos and many more.
Cecil’s contributions are consistent with the podcast; many of his casts include his traditional ‘traffic’ section (which is not about traffic, for the uninitiated). In the podcast, the ‘weather’ is a musical number, always by talented musicians and often by groups whose appearance is a break for them. Cecil never mentions the weather; towards the end of the novel I hoped the very last line would be ‘And now for THE WEATHER’. I was disappointed. [sad face]
The Night Vale team have had sellout seasons in halls and stadiums around the world. Welcome to Night Vale, the novel, is consistent with the podcast and yet it’s a good place to jump in if you’ve never listened to the podcast. There are fan services for followers of the series, like references to old headlines in the imaginary local journal that allude to what has gone before. For example, warnings about the dangerous Glow Cloud; ‘All hail the Glow Cloud’, and references to the Glow Cloud joining the PTA. In that order. Night Vale is unique. However, prior knowledge of the podcast is not necessary to read the novel.
Inspired by Lovecraft, Welcome to Night Vale is social comment, comedy and horror in a unique, often surreal, blend of twisty storytelling. Deservedly a cult classic already, Night Vale has hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of fans world-wide. Join us. The Secret Police are watching. They will know if you don’t. They will know if you do. They know EVERYTHING.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Format: paperback, 416 pages
Imprint: Orbit (Hachette)