Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Posted On 27 February 2013

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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.


12 Responses to “Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman”

  1. theoceanfrozen

    I read American Gods and I loved it but I haven’t read any of Neil Gaiman’s short stories because I generally avoid short stories as well. I figure if I like any short stories it’ll be his but I really just want to read Neverwhere more.

    • lynnsbooks

      Definitely read Neverwhere – I loved it, plus the Graveyard book. I’ve not read American Gods yet – I think I’m saving myself for some reason.
      Lynn ;D

  2. TBM

    I wonder if the library has this. Don’t Ask Jack–is that connected with–oh shoot what was the last groupread of Gaiman–I can’t remember the title of the book.

    • lynnsbooks

      The Graveyard Book – this is a different type of Jack but still a little chiller.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Marie

    I feel exactly the same about short stories. I never find them as satisfying as a novel, always feel somehow cheated at the end!

    • lynnsbooks

      It’s also that normally reading a longer book it’s something that takes my time – and absorbs me – with short stories you’ve finished them too soon. You just don’t get the feeling of being rooted to anything. That’s why I started with Gaiman because I do like him so if any short stories were going to draw me in it would be his. They were good but just not the same!
      Lynn 😀

  4. nrlymrtl

    I read this collection a number of years ago. I enjoyed it, but not as much as his novels. When I do read short story collections, I usually gravitate towards collections that are by 1 author – then I feel like I am spending time in the same universe, at the least. When it is a collection of authors, I have to take the time to concentrate on each individual story, relearning place names and universe rules for each story. Not that that is bad, just that it takes more focus.

    • lynnsbooks

      Yes, I definitely didn’t enjoy this as much as his novels and, like Carl mentions, there are a few ‘disturbing’ stories in there. I did enjoy the fairy tales being retold though.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Carl V. Anderson

    There are several short stories in this collection that are among my favorites. “Chivalry” is just a sweet, interesting story. “The Price”–I remember being chilled the first time I read that. “The White Road” is one that will pop into my head at odd moments where something will remind me of the way I felt reading the story or images I had from it. I bought a statue from Lisa Snellings, “Red”, because I loved it, of course, but also because it reminded me of “The White Road”.

    “We Can Get Them For You Wholesale” is another clever/creepy favorite. “The Sweeper of Dreams” has always spoken to me because of my career in mental health. And “Snow, Glass, Apples” is among my favorite fairy tale retellings.

    Great stuff.

    And there is of course Gaiman’s trademark disturbing stuff that I could do without. If I could create my own collection from the stories I like from this volume and from Fragile Things it would be a perfect short story collection.

    I’ve been really enjoying reading more short stories than normal thus far this year and it has helped me to a) be reading other things too, as you mention and b) picking ones to read further and discuss in the weekly posts that I just started recently. I have a tendency to devour short stories like a starving man, not savoring the taste long enough unless I purposefully make and effort to do so, which I’ve been trying to do.

    • lynnsbooks

      I know, I was a bit shocked by some of the more ‘disturbing’ stuff. I actually wasn’t expecting it. I did really like some of the stories and maybe I will read some more short stories but I think I’ll have them to read whilst also reading a larger novel.
      Lynn 😀

  6. jessicabookworm

    I am a recent convert to short story collections after really enjoying two collections of Sherlock Holmes stories. I totally understand what you mean about maybe not getting the connection with the characters, which I managed to avoid as Holmes and Watson were of course in every story. I am now reading Brothers Grimm Fairytales. I always read a short story collection alongside a novel though don’t think I’d enjoy it as my only fiction read at a time.

    I haven’t read this collection, unfortunately I’m not really a fan of Neil Gaiman. I read and was disappointed by Stardust then I also read and enjoyed Good Omens which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett. Not sure I only enjoyed that though because of Pratchett. Maybe this collection might be an easier way for me to try out more of Gaiman’s work.

    • lynnsbooks

      Short Sherlock Holmes stories probably I would think would work really well because you’re still carrying the same two characters over into each new story. I do like Gaiman I must admit which is why I thought I’d try his short stories – some of them are a bit more shocking than I would have imagined I must admit!
      Lynn 😀

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