★ ★ ★ ★ ★ – 5 Stars
A collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman is as wonderful as one story by Neil Gaiman. There are ten stories in this book, some are long, some are short, but all manage to be very sad, funny, sweet, and mysterious.
The first story, The Case of The Four and Twenty Blackbirds, reads like a 1940s detective film, you could imagine the black and white or sepia surroundings immediately. Gaiman captures the mood of these films well, it was very well at hiding its secrets and providing clues and hints.
This story is a hard-boiled detective story about nursery rhyme characters according to Gaiman; and this, I think, is brilliant upon brilliant. Everything connects perfectly and even if the mystery does not get you swept up in it, the tone of voice will. You can so clearly imagine the detective films it is replicating and you even manage to add your own music to go along with it. Truly wonderful.
The second story reads a little bit like Three Billy Goats Gruff, but it is not long before it turns into something much more magical, and much more heartbreakingly beautiful. Troll Bridge is about a boy who meets a troll under a bridge and how this affects his life. From where it begins to where it ends is such a change that you don’t expect it but it makes you happy at the same time, one of those beautifully sad happinessess that make you think.
How To Sell Ponti Bridge tells the story of how many people can and have been duped into buying landmarks, especially bridges. There is a deeper, more complex story intertwined which makes it interesting as well, but the simple story of how people fall for this is a delight as well. You do have to pay attention in this story as it gets a tad confusing, but it is also very cleverly done.
October in the Chair was possibly one of the most eerie. The months of the year are personified and through the story manage to reflect the seasons in which they reside which was rather clever. The purpose it seems is that everyone tells a story so there a few mini stories, but October’s is the key. October’s story is very touching; it is thought provoking, and certainly has something wonderfully unsettling about it. What I loved about this story was the fact that the ending is left there, no one analyses it, nor do they try and conclude it. It just is what it is and what more do you need?
Chivalry was a great follower to the previous story as it lightened the mood. It seems that trying to convince an old woman to sell the Holy Grail may be harder than it looks. The battle of Galaad to convince Mrs Whitaker to give him the Grail is very sweet. There was also a great quote, “She liked the vicar, the Reverend Bartholomew…she thought about mentioning to him that he had the Holy Grail in her front parlour, but decided against it.” Definitely a nice little read to bring up the mood.
The Price adds a supernatural element which was interesting. There is little progressive narrative, rather a snapshot of life trying to solve a mystery around a stray cat. It was quite good however, and certainly leaves it open and inconclusive in a way which I liked.
How to Talk to Girls at parties seems very simple on the surface, but as readers we know something the boys in the story do not, but at the same time we don’t really know either. In that sense we are discovering as they do, but we also have a greater sense of what is going on. This makes it intriguing, and maybe not one of my favourites, but I still really enjoyed it. The thing about these short stories is they are all so different, yet work well together as a collection, that just adds to their joy.
Sunbird is the story of the Epicurean Club, the goal is to eat every animal available it seems. This story sends them on the quest for the mysterious Sunbird and what happens when they find it. Again, Gaiman’s endings make you smile and admire his ability to twist the world and what you thought. The ending is the key though as the middle is mainly listing and discussing the other things the club has eaten over the years.
The Witch’s Headstone was a great story as well; it reminded me of October’s but only slightly. I think writing from children’s perspectives is always a good idea, their innocence is always good, especially in unnatural circumstances. There is a small mystery unanswered by the end but it isn’t a bother. Following Bod as he tries to do a nice thing is enough reward for me.
Instructions is a poem at the end of the book, it is what is says, a poem of instructions on various things. I am not very good at reading or judging poetry but I liked it. That’s about all I can offer on that front.
What I do like about Gaiman is that he does not tell you things, he lets you discover them. This approach I think gives a lot of credit to his readers, he can tell great, amazing stories without spelling out everything, or even just pointing out the obvious. He knows we can put two and two together. And the best part is, when he lets us do that, then he can come and make it equal five and we’ll accept it as if it’s always been. This is the genius of Gaiman.