“What we read as adults should be read, I think, with no warnings or alerts beyond, perhaps: enter at your own risk. We need to find out what fiction is, what it means, to us, an experience that is going to be unlike anyone else’s experience of the story.”
― Neil Gaiman,
I must confess I’ve been avoiding reading this book. It’s been in my bookcase for ages but you know what they say, sometimes you need to take your fate in your hands and make a choice. Should I leave Neil Gaiman prose with a good taste in my brain (Anansi boys was great!) or with a sour catastrophe that Norse Gods was… I did love American Gods… So I’ll give this a go.
“The monsters in our cupboards and our minds are always there in the darkness, like mould beneath the floorboards and behind the wallpaper, and there is so much darkness, an inexhaustible supply of darkness. The universe is amply supplied with night.”
Wow. The writing was impeccable. I loved the metaphors and the odd winks from the author and there were two stories I really liked. The poem about a traveller who falls victim to his landlady and the one with.. umm.. the one with… there was one more. Why can’t I remember it?
“They never get easier, never stop my heart from trip-trapping, never let me escape, this time, unscathed. But they teach me things, and they open my eyes, and if they hurt, they hurt in ways that make me think and grow and change.”
There are 24 stories in this collection and it’s advertised in the preface (sold up to be honest by the author himself) as stories you’ll never be able to forget. It’s been three days and I have a vague memory of the stories and 90% of them have already vanished.
After reviewing the intro, I remembered. It was “The thing about Cassandra” that I liked best from all the other stories. A guy invents a make-believe girlfriend when he is growing up, invents a whole history together and then when he is older, his friends and then his family tell him that his girlfriend from long-ago is back in town. Her name was Cassandra and true enough, the woman he imagined was real and they meet and they share the same past. The twist comes when it appears that the guy is not actually real and Cassandra was the one who imagined him and once she touched him, he disappeared.
“The thing about Cassandra is this: I’d made her up.”
Making A Chair – A poetic comparison between a chair and the writing process. Not particularly interesting.
A Lunar Labyrinth – A traveler, a maze and the darkness of the full moon. There’s references to Gene Wolfe but that went over my head.
The Thing About Cassandra – Quite good! An imaginary girlfriend drops back into the main character’s life – just as his career reaches a pinnacle. The twist ending had me setting down this book and pondering how crazy it was.
Down To A Sunless Sea – A woman loses her son to the sea. An encounter years later reveals a cruel and terrible fate.
The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains – THIS DOES NOT COUNT – it was published once in Stories (2010) and again as a fully illustrated short story (2014). A man, a dwarf, a cursed cavern and a burning desire for revenge.
My Last Landlady – The renter reflects on his quirky past landlady. The landlady makes short work of her renters and despite being gone they still linger…
Adventure Story – An older woman refers to the most mundane aspects as an adventure and the craziest moments ad normal reality. This one was actually fun – exactly how I aspire to live my life.
Orange – orange hair dye + ancient goddess =/= great combination. His older sister rubs some orange goop into her skin in an effort to become tanner, turns out that allowed the goddess to take over. Told only through the answers of a questionnaire form – quirky and interesting.
A Calendar Of Tales – Each month told its own story. Most were uninteresting. I feel like this should have been longer than death.
The Case Of Death And Honey – It makes sense that Arthur Conan Doyle would influence Gaiman’s work. He pays homage to Doyle by writing a case that maybe only Sherlock could solve. What’s so interesting is the way it’s put together, in letters and correspondence. Again, I could not figure the direction until near the end which makes the final paragraphs so satisfying. Even Sherlock’s bored in the story (and not in the fun BORED of BBC’s version, more like he’s literally raising bees.)
The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury – Tribute to a mentor. I never read much of Ray Bradbury, thus this was all lost on me.
Jerusalem – A brief look into the madness that comes with extreme devotion. A woman pilgrimages to the holy city only to go crazy once she gets there.
Click-Clack The Rattlebag – Brilliant and shockingly so. This made the whole book worth the read. Seriously. This could be a great book on its own. A teenager is babysitting his girlfriend’s little brother and makes the mistake of asking the kid for a scary story. That kid delivered.
An Invocation Of Incuriosity – A terrible father has no qualms regarding his youngest son’s life and inheritance. Felt vaguely cinderella-ish with the way the son had to serve the other family despite being the true heir.
And Weep, Like Alexander – One man stands in the way of complete and terrible inventions. His sole job – unmake everything that leads outside of the normal realm of invention. Anything annoying or overpowering (i.e. jetpacks) were unmade by him.
Nothing O’Clock – My first Dr Who book. The characters seemed a smidge off from the episodes but this was an intriguing issue.
Diamonds And Pearls: A Fairy Tale – Modern fairy tale(ish) kind of like the one where the good girl is nice to a fairy and every time she speaks jewels fall out. But with cocaine and hookers. About as bad as you think it would be.
The Return Of The Thin White Duke – David Bowie themed fan fiction (in Gaiman’s words). It’s strange.
Feminine Endings – Creepy one about a living statue that set his eyes on one particular girl. As usual with Gaiman, it got weirdly sexual and included panty-inspections.
Observing The Formalities – Narrated poem. Not memorable.
The Black Dog – I can almost hear the fans of American Gods hooing and haaing because Shadow is back. That’s so cool. In truth I have pretty well forgotten the plot and feel of American Gods, but still, this was a pretty decent short. Another mystery, and is Gaiman once again recalling Sherlock here? He drops a little hint when mentioning The Hound of the Baskervilles. This one comes with some evil and magic.
Witch Work – Poem on witch magic
In Relig Odhráin – poem about saint and church.