Smoke and Mirrors – Neil Gaiman

Hi. I’ve been absent from my writing desk for a while, and if you come here every now and then, you’ll see it’s been almost a month. A month! While I haven’t stopped reading, more often than not just finishing a book and starting on another, it has been somewhat of a challenge to find the time to actually sit down and put the ideas (and the scraps of paper on which I wrote down some thoughts and impressions from the books) together into a coherent review. Well, today I managed to write a brand new review of a book I liked very, very much. Here it is:

Neil Gaiman is a name that’s been popping up on my reading radar more and more often these days, and even though I wasn’t very taken with his novel American Gods, I absolutely love his short stories. This collection is a compilation of 31 stories based on famous fairy tales and kids’ stories. And what makes this collection even more appealing is that the author tells the reader how he got the idea for each story – a statue he saw which became “The Sweeper of Dreams”, something he listened to on the radio right before he dozed off one day and the first thing he heard when he woke up – that was the starting point for “We Can Get Them for You Wholesale”, or a story he was commissioned to write for a magazine. These are some of my favorite stories from the book:

The first one that comes forward (yet again – I’ve come across it in another short story collection, By Blood We Live – Edited by John Joseph Adams) is Snow, Glass, Apples, in which the classic story of Snow White gets reworked into a vampire tale. All the known elements are there: the king and his little daughter, the stepmother and her magic mirror, the dwarves, the poisoned apple, even the prince that brings the princess back to life. How Gaiman succeeds in bringing these elements together to create a story that is very different from the sweet happily-ever-after original, is worthy of praise. It was a pleasure to read, again.

The Price – is about a stray cat who is adopted by a family who lives in the countryside. Unlike all the other cats that have found shelter at the house, Black Cat is different – as days go by, his appearance changes: he has missing patches of fur, gashes on his face, a mutilated ear and the list goes on. With every day, and in spite of repeated visits to the vet for treatment, he seems to be getting worse. Intrigued by his wounds and thinking he can protect the animal, the owner decides to stay awake one night and see what kind of enemy Black Cat is fighting. What he sees is nothing like he ever imagined. Or I, for that matter.

Troll Bridge – In this new take on the famous Norwegian fairy tale “Three Billy Goats Gruff”, Gaiman replaces the goats with a 7 year old boy who wanders far from home on a beautiful summer day. His travels bring him to a bridge surrounded by “fields and wheat and trees”, the hiding place for a huge troll. I’m going to eat your life, Jack, says the troll and he means it. I have wondered why the author used “eat your life” instead of “eat you up”. There’s something tricky here, I thought, and it was. A very good story set in modern day London, with an unexpected ending.

We Can Get Them for You Wholesale – How far would you go to punish someone? Peter Pinter goes quite far, when he finds out his fiancée is cheating on him. Finding a solution to the problem seems to be an easy task – all he needs is someone who will take his rival out of the picture. Forever. But then, how to resist when the dirty deed can be done for a discount? All he needs to do is find somebody else he would like to get rid of. It’s not long before he makes quite a list, and while this is a creepy story, I also found it amusing when I think how often we are tempted by that word. Discount.

Two very short excellent stories (and by “excellent” I mean WOW) are:

The Sweeper of Dreams – in which the author paints a picture of an actual sweeper who comes and does his job after we have left the land of dreams, leaving the world we inhabit at night clean and ready for a new dream. Practical advice is given on how to treat the sweeper and what happens if you upset him and he never comes back. The consequences are terrible. You do not want to mess with this guy.


Nicholas Was… – not as happy as you’d think. In just a few words, the legend of Saint Nicholas who brings gifts to children gets a good shake. I did not envy him.

Being a fan of classical vampire stories/verses, I just have to mention Vampire Sestina, a poem, which is actually a lament and also a story in verse. The beginning is beautiful; the ending, perfection. I’ll leave you with something in between:

“I said I would not hurt you. Am I stone
To leave you prey to time and to the world?
I offered you a truth beyond your dreams
While all you had to offer was your love.”

What do you think of the stories mentioned here? Have you read Smoke and Mirrors or anything else by Neil Gaiman?

*Read in February 2012

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20 Responses to Smoke and Mirrors – Neil Gaiman

  1. JoV says:

    I was taken by American Gods as well. I’m about to write my review soon. I did not finish the book. I’m glad to hear the short stories are better but I don’t think I want to have anything to do with Gaiman’s book. You think? 🙂

  2. Delia says:

    Hi JoV,
    The idea behind American Gods was excellent but I found the book too long. I look forward to your review.
    The short stories are great, I enjoyed them a lot.

  3. Vishy says:

    Wonderful to see you back, Delia 🙂 Great review! The short stories in this collection sound fascinating! I would love to read ‘The Price’ and ‘We Can Get Them For You Wholesale’ sometime. I have read just one Gaiman book – ‘Coraline’. I hope to read more of his works in the future.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Vishy,
      I have seen the movie “Coraline” and liked it a lot, but I haven’t read the book. “Stardust” was another movie I liked, and it’s made after one of Gaiman’s books as well.
      I hope to read more of his books, too. Maybe “Anansi Boys” – that sounds interesting.

      • Vishy says:

        I loved the movie version of ‘Stardust’ 🙂 I hope to read the novel some day. Glad to know that you liked the movie version of ‘Coraline’. I haven’t seen it yet, but I hope to watch it sometime. I remember reading when the movie was released that it was quite innovative – that it didn’t use computer animation but used some real figurines for the different characters.

        • Delia says:

          I didn’t know that about Coraline. The movie is good…and sad. I hope you get to watch it. It reminds me of another movie called Pan’s Labyrinth, where a little girl tries to escape reality and discovers a whole new world full of magical creatures. Have you seen it?

  4. JoV says:

    I read your review again very carefully and all the short stories in this book sounds so amazing! Some stories seems to have a scary ending. Stuff of nightmares… I hope it won’t give me any! I may read this. Thanks for introducing Smokes and Mirrors.

    p/s: I meant to say “I wasn’t taken by American Gods”.

    • Delia says:

      Oh they are quite ok, these stories. They will let you sleep at night, no problem. The book of vampire stories I’m reading now is scary but I like it.

      I know that’s what you wanted to say.
      It looks like we have similar thoughts on “American Gods”. I’ll go read your review, thanks for posting a link.

  5. Jenners says:

    I’ve been hearing raves about Neil Gaiman since I started blogging and so I listened to American Gods on audio (about 19 hours!!!) and I just didn’t fall in love. But to hear that it didn’t quite do it for you but you enjoy his short stories made me want to give him another chance.

    • Delia says:

      There is hope, Jen, and it lies in his short stories. I love the whole fantasy-fairy tale feel of the book and how he creates new stories with known elements. He’s like a baker, you give him eggs and milk and flour and sugar and he comes up with a cake that’s very delicious but it tastes very different from what we expect.

  6. I seem to hear about Neil Gaiman everywhere! I haven’t read anything by him yet, but may give in now that you’ve recommended him as well 🙂 I like starting with short stories anyway, as they give me a good idea of the author’s different types of writing, and are not too big a commitment in case I don’t like it after all!

    • Delia says:

      Hi Andrew,
      This book may be a good starting point if you don’t want to commit to a full length novel at first. The stories are dark, captivating, with a various degree of horror involved, but it’s a kind of subtle horror, not the kind that keeps you awake at night. And even if you discover it’s not really the type of literature you enjoy, it’s good to challenge yourself and read outside of your comfort zone. I may do just that and try some science fiction soon. 🙂
      I still haven’t given up on Gaiman’s novels, though. I’d like to read another one this year.

  7. Delia says:

    @Vishy: I recommend it, especially if you like Coraline. It’s like a dark fairytale for grownups. The original name is “El laberinto del fauno”.

  8. Natalie says:

    Hi Delia, I enjoyed reading your review of Neil Gaiman’s work. At this point in my reading his Smoke and Mirrors, my favourites are Chivalry and the Goldfish Pool.

  9. Delia says:

    Hi Natalie,
    I got my book out and looked for the two stories you mentioned. “Chivalry” was a really funny one and I like what Gaiman said about “The Goldfish Pool”: some of this story is true. Now I wonder which part he was talking about…

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