Fortunately, The Milk
By Neil Gaiman
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4088 4176 1
Sometimes established writers of fiction just can't contain their ideas and have to let their imaginations run wild. This is certainly the case with the brilliant Neil Gaiman and his latest novella. Gaiman has written highly acclaimed books for both adults and young readers, and is the first author to have won both the prestigious Carnegie and Newbery Medals for the same work - The Graveyard Book.
Gaiman is known for highly imaginative works like Coraline, but he has never attempted anything like Fortunately, The Milk before. It's his strangest and most breathless story, packing into a mere 140 pages almost every sort of adventure scenario you can imagine.
Things start simply enough: Mum's away on business, Dad's in charge of the kids, and there's no milk in the fridge. The kids can't eat their cereal. Dad is almost tempted to make something else for breakfast, but then realises without milk, he can't have this cup of tea, so he pops out to buy some. But he is away for a very long time.
Dad buys the milk without any problem, but as he is walking out of the store, he sees a huge silver disc hovering in the sky. It comes closer and before he realises what is happening, he is abducted by aliens.
As the plot shifts into top gear, Dad is made to walk the plank by a ruthless gang of pirates, then rescued by a stegosaurus in a hot-air balloon. He gets himself involved with the theft of a precious jewel from the forehead of an Aztec god, and by the end of his adventures Dad is best friends with a trio of dancing dwarfs.
After many more outrageous escapades, Dad eventually gets back home. And yes, he's still clutching the carton of milk.
Gaiman is always a high-octane storyteller. He throws everything apart from the kitchen sink into the plot, and it all works brilliantly. But the best scene in the book is a quiet and reflective exchange between Dad and the balloon-travelling stegosaurus.
It is impossible not to like and get fully caught up in a novel that borrows from every other story you thought you knew. And everything is helped along by brilliant illustrations by Chris Riddell (UK edition) and Skottie Young (US version), fantastic illustrators who are at the top of their game. It's worth reading both editions, just to experience the art.
This book is for younger readers, but however old you are, if you're in the mood for a classy bit of silliness, this is a perfect choice.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com