Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

GENRE: short stories/fantasy

Smoke and Mirrors assembles 36 of Neil Gaiman’s favourite stories, prose poems, and verse pieces. Among the imaginative inventions here are a murder mystery set among angels in heaven; the discovery of the Holy Grail at Oxfam; warped retellings of fairy tales and folklore, including a Snow White that's black beyond belief; several clever variations on vampirism; a firm of contract killers with a very remarkable discount scheme; homages to Michael Moorcock and H.P. Lovecraft (one splendidly funny) that avoid mere pastiche; an SF world of rapid and reversible sex changes; Beowulf retold as a Baywatch episode; a tasty amalgamation of computers and black magic; a new final book of the Bible; and the grim wedding present that's simply a manuscript telling a bleakly different story of the recipients' unfolding marriage.

This collection of short stories is the first thing I read by Neil Gaiman and it made me his fan immediately. I think that short stories are really hard to write because you are limited by length and you need to get the reader’s attention with only a few pages of your writing. I can only say that Neil Gaiman is an amazing story-teller and this collection of short stories was a real treat to read.

I think every reader can find something for themselves in this collection of short stories. All stories are fantasies, one way or another, but they vary in the subject matter. Some are witty and fun, some are mysterious, some are dark, some are sad, some are naughty and some are even a bit pervy. Neil Gaiman really covered a wide area of subjects with Smoke and Mirrors.

I really love Smoke and Mirrors, and I have returned to some stories several times. I only dislike one thing about this collection of short stories: there are too many stories for one collection that are about sex. I am perfectly aware that sex is part of one’s life, and I am not a prude who is against sex in literature. But I have my limits, and although an occasional sex story is okay, more than three per collection start pushing my limits, I confess. Also, I am not overly fond of detailed descriptions of sex, because detailed descriptions can quickly turn into an anatomy lesson. Still, Gaiman stayed original and witty throughout the collection, for which I must compliment him. Smoke and Mirrors is a really good collection of short stories.

Some of my favourite stories from Smoke and Mirrors are: Chivalry (which takes the quest for the Holy Grail to a new level), Troll Bridge, The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories (nostalgia is cool), Only the End of the World Again (it’s not easy being a werewolf), Murder Mysteries (trouble in Paradise – literally) and Snow, Glass, Apples (you’ll never perceive the Snow White the same way again).


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