Just finished reading Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman which is a selection of short stories ranging from retold fairy stories to whimsical tales to twisted and dark mystery and speculative science fiction.
I don’t tend to read a lot of short stories or short story collections. I think in the past the fact that they’re so short leaves me feeling disconnected with the characters as though we don’t have time to form a proper friendship or get to know each others little whims. That being said it has been a bit of an eye opening experience for me in a number of ways.
I quite like that I can pick up and start a story and finish it in one short sitting. On the other hand – the fact that I finish the story so quickly leaves me with that slightly bereft feeling that you have at the end of any book – and times this by the number of stories in the book = not the best feeling in the world.
However, I also like the way that the stories make me feel whimsical – it’s a bit like being a child again where stories were read to you at night, and usually the stories were of a size to read in one sitting = a good feeling – and times that by the number of stories in the book.
Also, I was thinking about it and graphic novels are short stories really (well, some of them are) – and yet I think I probably enjoy them more because they’re illustrated. Not sure what that says about me really so I’m still thinking about that.
So, the short story (actually no pun was intentional) is that I’m not totally sure yet what side of the fence I’m sitting on with short stories. I think the main issue I have is that when I’m reading a longer novel it feels like I have this purpose, I constantly go to pick up my book and continue from where I’ve left off and I think that’s the thing I miss with these mini tales. But, what I did to counterbalance this was read another novel at the same time which sort of worked. Perhaps that’s the trick – to just read the odd short story here and there in between your other book?
Anyway, Smoke and Mirrors.
I’m not going to go through a lengthy description of all the stories. There’s plenty here to appeal to a range of different tastes. I think my favourites were definitely the starting and concluding tales: Chivalry and Snow, Glass Apples. These were followed by Don’t Ask Jack, Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar, The Sweeper of Dreams and When We Went to See the End of the World by Dawnie Morningside age 11 1/2.
Was this my favourite Gaiman. No. Did I like it. Yes. I didn’t love it but I think that’s due to my own natural tendency to shy away from short stories. Will I try out more short stories in the future: Yes, in fact I’m already doing so – Unidentified Funny Objects edited b Alex Shvartsman.
Just read the first of the Sandman (actually I already read No.3 already but I don’t think this adversely affects the storyline as it was almost like a standalone).
The Sandman is really my first foray into graphic novels and I think I’m probably spoiled now!
Preludes and Nocturnes, put basically, sees Dream being captured by a bunch of demon worshippers who were aiming to ensnare Death but miscalculated and instead got Dream. They keep him trapped in a cellar for years and years (basically as they all become victims of their own mortality). Eventually, he escapes, his dream world is ruined and he no longer has the tools of his trade. And, so begins his quest. to regain his throne and restore his dream realm.
This is such a perfect combination. Gaiman, who, lets face it, can do no wrong, lets his wicked imagination run riot and his amazing stories are brought stunningly to life with the most amazing images. Frankly I find myself taking a lot longer to read the stories than I should because I’m totally diverted by the imagery. The graphics are brilliant and are a perfect compliment to Gainman’s wriring. The other thing that really strikes you is that in portraying the story this way there’s probably much more violence and blood than you actually realise – some of it really quite dramatic but it seems more acceptable somehow in this format.
I love the way that we have gods and myths, even aliens, all mixed up with the darker side of human nature. I think I’m going to like Morpheus – he’s an odd character, he’s not perfect is he? For example, he wanted revenge when he broke free from his captors – and who wouldn’t in his circumstances – but it shows a certain side to his character, a bit human really even though he isn’t human. He also didn’t know how to retrieve his ruby from the crazy madman who was trying to cause the end of the world. And we also met his rather quirky sister Death who defies all the stereotypes.
All in all a brilliant start to this series of novels. I think my favourite – and you have to pick one really (it would be rude not to) was the foray into hell. Brilliantly depicted and with the little duelling game at the end of the story where Morpheus takes on the demon who has his mask! (That demon was freaky looking – two mouths, I thought I’d gone cross eyed for a moment there).
Just finished reading Stardust by Neil Gaiman. I loved this book – now, I genuinely don’t know whether it’s just that I’m made up with Neil Gaiman who seems able to do no wrong for me or not but I just fell right into this story and was absorbed until the end. Gaiman has such a great way with words and manages to tell a fairy story that is different and aimed at an adult audience.
Stardust brings to us Tristan Thorn. Tristan was born as a result of one night’s passion between Dunstan Thorn and a not entirely human slave he meets one night when he goes to the Market over the wall. Nine months later Dunstan receives a little bundle of job – left, almost, on his doorstep.
The Village of Wall is a sheltered and olde world Victorian village with old fashioned ways and customs. The Village is nestled right up alongside The Wall (for which it is probably named) beyond which are strange comings and goings. Beyond the Wall is where Tristan must go to bring back a falling star for his lady love. He’s about to embark on a strange adventure with no end of imagination. If you can imagine it, it’s probably in this book.
I love the way that Gaiman brings together a fairy story without it seeming like a cliche. We have Wall – and beyond we have this strange world where anything can happen. Just like in your childhood stories – Once upon a time, over the hill and far away…. It’s just brilliant. Puts me in mind of Norrell and Strange – where the strange world of the fey once was known to us but the paths to it have now been lost – the paths beyond the wall remain but few tread there without a purpose. Once every nine years a market appears in the meadow beyond the wall and at this point the residents of the village mingle with the strange and unknown.
This is only a short book and yet Gaiman manages to make us care about the people he writes about. I’m not quite sure how he does this. There are no lengthy explanations, no great wordy descriptions or info dumps and yet quite clearly we have a firm idea of the place and a distinct liking for the characters that populate it – whether they are make believe or not and whether they only play a fleeting part or a more substantial role. Tristan is decidedly naive but is quite refreshingly honest and likeable. Yvaine (the fallen star) is brusque and sharp tongued – although I think anybody would be a bit naffed off under similar circumstances.
Alongside this we have two other stories running – which are all about to coincide. We have the Lilim. Three ancient witch like creatures who are older than the hills. They seek the star for the purity of her heart which will renew their youth. We also have the remaining heirs of Stormhold – in a desperate race to find the fallen star first and retrieve the Topaz she carries which will give them the right to rule.
The action is fairly fast paced and brings to us creatures and myths along the way, the unicorn and the lion, flying pirates who seek lightning storms and talking trees to name but a few.
There’s plenty more to read about and is all very entertaining. It did put me in mind of The Book of Lost Things -not that the stories are the same but they’re both about young men who become embroiled in a fantastic journey and also they’re both coming of age stories.
I loved it and would happily read it again. Also, the book I was reading had a short story that Gaiman wrote before Stardust, a story that starts with a young girl and seven magpies. The book also included an interview which I really enjoyed reading – it just contained intriguing little snippets – like the copper beech tree in the story being created for Tori Amos. I only hope that one day Gaiman will return and finish his magpie story.
I’m including this in my RIP event. It’s fantasy and although I admit it isn’t really dark fantasy it is adult and there are some definite elements that could warrant it’s inclusion. I’m thinking of the particular parts of the story that focus on the witch – who isn’t exactly a sweet and cuddly character!
The Sandman – Wikipedia definition:
Just finished reading Coraline by Neil Gaiman. This is a lovely, short creepy story that tells the story of Coraline who having recently moved to a new house finds a strange door that leads nowhere. Or does it?
This is another wonderfully creepy story brought to us again by NG. Coraline, in exploring her new house comes across a secret passageway that once travelled along seems to bring her out into the same house she’s just come from. An alternative/parallel habitat where the occupants are in fact her ‘other’ mother and father.
This is a great read. Very quick and quirky and as usual awash with imagination. The cat character is just excellent and made me laugh with it’s arrogance and superior attitude. I also liked the upstairs and downstairs neighbours who added a sort of grand theatrical feel to everything.
The alternate house starts off almost looking too good to be true – and it is. Just goes to show that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side of the fence. Another mother who has all the time in the world to devote to Coraline, cooking her favourite meals, playing games, a lovely bedroom with a very strange toy box, but, things aren’t to be that simple. The other mother has a fairly exacting price to pay for all this devotion.
I guess you can see a strange sort of resemblance to Alice in Wonderland here. We certainly have a bunch of quirky characters and a strange setting where anything seems possible – even an ally that turns out to be a talking cat but Gaiman always has his own strange take on everything and manages to inject a certain feeling of foreboding in the early chapters that gradually increases to a quite creepy and tense finale.
Now, all that being said, I do have a few minor criticisms – although probably more to do with me than the book. Firstly, I think I ruined this book for myself by watching the film first. I just couldn’t help but picture the characters when reading – I don’t suppose that’s necessarily a bad thing but I think I would have liked to have used my own imagination a bit more. Secondly, the film Coraline is such a visual treat with a riot of colour that reading the book afterwards almost pales a little by comparison – which is weird really because, apart from a few diversions, the film pretty much sticks to the book. Lastly, I think this book does come across more for a younger audience than say The Graveyard Book, although it’s simplicity does lend it a very quick read – one sitting, literally.
On the whole a weird and wonderful little indulgence and a great read to pick up in between your more chunky, time consuming novels.