Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Smoke and Mirrors was a present from a friend for my birthday, and I was so psyched when I opened it. There have been some Neil Gaiman short stories that I’ve absolutely loved, and while this collection wasn’t full of solid gems, there were some fantastic pieces.

One of my favourite stories is tucked away in the introduction. “The Wedding Present” is about just that – a pair of newlyweds gifted a written description of their wedding as a present. Except the contents keep changing… (I now really want to give my friend a magic marriage story for her wedding.) I hugely enjoyed “Chivalry”, about an elderly lady who purchases the Holy Grail from a charity shop. “The Goldfish Pool” was utterly ridiculous in places and as such rang absolutely true, “Queen of Knives” left me chilled, and “Changes” could easily have been a novel in its own right. I’d read “We Can Get Them For You Wholesale” before but enjoyed it just as much the second time around, and “Snow, Glass, Apples” was a fantastic way to end the collection.

Of course there were some low notes in there too. I’m just not a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, so the stories in which Gaiman riffs off the Cthulu mythos did nothing for me (“Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar”, “Bay Wolf”, and particularly “Only the End of the World Again”, which tried so hard to be noir that it was silly). Some of the selection are too short to be more than snippets (“Nicholas Was”, “Don’t Ask Jack”, “Desert Wind”), and some are just gratuitously gross (“Eaten”, about grim sexual fetishes, and “Babycakes”, a story for PETA in which animals disappear so humanity decides to experiment on, eat and make clothes from babies instead.)

Something I really enjoy is the way Gaiman introduces all his stories – filling in the background of who they were written for and why. It’s a nice bit of bonus content, and one I kept flipping back to.

Smoke and Mirrors has reminded me that one of these days, I really must get around to reading more of Gaiman’s longform fiction. American Gods has been on the periphery of my to-read list for years…

[Read from 28 June-9 July 2017]

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