Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse


Chris Riddell


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

June 12, 2022

oth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is the first in a series that features Ada, a young girl living in a huge English mansion called Ghastly Gorm Hall, which sits upon the grounds of a vast and bizarre estate. Ada is the sole daughter of Lord Goth VI, the famous cycling poet. Alas, Ada's mother perished in an accident when a thunderstorm struck while she was practicing tightrope on the rooftops of Ghastly Gorm Hall. Lord Goth VI still mourns his deceased wife, and so is withdrawn and isolated. This leaves the resourceful Ada pretty much on her own - she is surrounded by a multitude of servants, but her class status means that they do not communicate with her.

Ghastly Gorm Hall is so huge that Ada still has not explored all the rooms yet, especially in the Broken Wing, which is a part of the Hall that has fallen into disrepair. A map at the beginning of the book shows the intriguing locations that surround the gigantic building: The Lake of Extensively Coy Carp, the Overly Ornate Fountain, The Secret Garden, The Even More Secret Garden, The Back of Beyond Garden, and the Dear Deer Park, which is populated with rare ornamental deer. Just from that description of the environs, you can get a sense of Ridder's playfulness and his humor that permeates this book. Although it is definitely a children's book, it also a delight to read by adults.

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse reminds me a lot of Riddell's Ottoline series - a young girl, living mostly without parental supervision but surrounded by attendants, dresses exotically, encounters a wide array of eccentric characters, and has charming adventures. And, like Ottoline, Goth Girl is marvelously, profusely illustrated. Riddell must really get a kick out of creating these characters and their surroundings, because nearly every page has an inspired drawing on it. Some of the artwork is quite detailed and fills the entire page. Great illustrations make a for a memorable book.

Lord Goth VI employs the Psychic Governess Agency - whenever he thinks Ada deserves more schooling, the Agency immediately sends over another governess: Morag Macbee, Hebe Poppins, Jane Ear or Nanny Darling. Alas, none these governesses last long at Ghastly Gorm Hall, Ada is simply too obedient and smart to require their governess skills. Partway through this book, when Lord Goth again muses that Ada might benefit from some learning, a carriage drawn by 4 black horses (and no apparent driver) rolls up in front of the hall. Out steps Lucy Borgia, a tall, black-clad governess. Lucy informs Ada that she is actually a 300 year old vampire. Ada is not certain how she feels about Lucy, until Lucy promises to teach her the art of dueling with umbrellas. The secret is all in the umbrella tip - the correct tip for fighting a minotaur is not right for battling the mummy of a long dead pharaoh.

The huge hall is run by an army of servants. Inside Ada's vast closet lives a servant so timid that she is never seen, yet Ada's clothes are always found draped over the Dalmation Divan. There is a different outfit for everyday: The Friday clothes include a Somerset bonnet, a Wessex shawl and Norfolk frock with embroidered meadow-flower hem. On Saturday, Ada dresses in a crimson velvet jacket with golden buttons, white damask dress, dark green cape and pearl handled umbrella. Yet each day, Ada must wear big boots that make loud clomping noises as she marches through the hall; her father, Lord Goth, believes that children should be heard but not seen, and therefore Ada makes loud noises with each step.

Down in the kitchen is the chief cook, the formidable Mrs Beat'em. She is always filling out her recipe book with exotic new dishes, such as venison sausages in onion custard or porridge crusted kippers in strawberry gravy. Ada prefers to eat a simple breakfast of toast with a soft boiled egg. (However, the bread of the toast has been cut in the shape of a regiment of soldiers!)

Wandering the grounds, Ada meets Emily and William Cabbage, the children of Professor Cabbage, who is inventing a calculating engine in one of the rooms of the mansion. Ada is invited to join their Attic club, which is where the child-age servants get together. Ada had never been invited because of her lofty status, but soon she makes friends with Ruby the Outer-Pantry Maid, Arthur Halford the Hobby Horse Groom, and Kingsley the Chimney Caretaker.

Even for a kids book, the plot is not complicated. Instead, the story is a string of humorous events that describes eccentric characters acting in bizarre fashion. The villain of the book is the indoor gameskeeper, the sinister Maltravers, who is supposed to prepare the hall for the annual indoor hunt.

Adding an extra dose of silliness, this book contains footnotes. The beginning of the book tells us that the footnotes are written by "the severed foot of a famous writer who lost the aforementioned foot at the battle of Baden-Baden-Wurttemberg-Baden". Here is an example of one of the footnotes: "*The Gravy Rocket is a miniature version of the famous steam engine the Salad Rocket, which was used to transport carrots and cabbages from Norfolk to London until it crashed into the Mayonnaise Express just outside the little town of Coleslaw."

More characters appear for the annual gala: there is Mary Shellfish, the famous author of The Monster, or Prometheus Misbehaves, there is the radical cartoonist who always wears boxing gloves, the two poets who are always vying with each other, and the famous hunter Rupert von Hellsung.

There is a happy ending, Ada thwarts the machinations of Maltravers. Fortunately, there are several more books available in this charming series. I intend to read the Goth Girl and the Fete Worse than Death next.