Neil Gaiman’s works are far more different than most fantasy novels due to his allusive style, his wide range of intertextual references and his dreamy -highly British- writing. Even if he gained recognition for his comic scripts, in this post we shall revisit some of my favourite novels and two short story collections by him. Despite of the unnumbered imaginary creatures and the unlikable events that usually take place in his books, they still deal with real-life topics such as love, death, fear and adulthood.
The Graveyard Book (2008)
“Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a perfectly normal boy. Well, he would be perfectly normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs neither to the world of the living nor the world of the dead.”
In “The Graveyard Book” you’ll read about things that one would normally expect from a horror book for adults, such as the brutal murder of a family by a hit man and the survival of baby. But still, this is a book for children. A wonderful book for children that stands out for its inner rhythm, since its short sentences subtly rhyme like a lullaby.
Unnatural Creatures (2013)
“Selected by master storyteller Neil Gaiman, the sixteen stories in this menagerie will introduce you to a host of strange, wondrous beings that have never existed anyplace but in the richness of the imagination.”
In this collection of short stories, Neil gathers sixteen tales which may differ a lot, but are all extremely whimsical. The short stories that he chose stand out for their cultural diversity, since they originate from places from all over the world.
Smoke and Mirrors (1998)
“In Gaiman’s richly imagined fictions, anything is possible -an elderly widow finds the Holy Grail beneath an old fur coat in a second-hand store; under a bridge, a frightened little boy bargains for his life with a very persistent troll; a stray cat fights and refights a terrible nightly battle to protect his unsuspecting adoptive family from unimaginable evil…”
I believe that “Smoke and Mirrors” was the first book by Gaiman that I have ever read and I’m really glad I did. It is a collection of thirty short stories or so (depending on the edition) that last from one to a dozen pages. I really enjoyed its Introduction, in which the author explains to his readers when, how and why the idea of each story sprout into his head. Cats, black magic, fortune-tellers, angels (fallen or not), murders and a lot of mystery are to be found in this study around short stories.
American Gods (2002)
“Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.”
This has to be one of my favourite books (if not the one) by Neil Gaiman. “American Gods” won the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker and Locus Awards for best novel in 2002. A complete and quite challenging work with a beautiful, engaging story and quite a few subplots, many characters (mortals or not). A true masterpiece.
“Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.”
“Neverwhere” is Gaiman’s first solo novel. It was published in 1996 and it is the novelisation of the TV series of the same name. It’s the story of Richard Mayhew, a normal guy living a normal life in London, until one day he meets an injured girl, Door. His decision to help her will put him into serious trouble and will change him more than he could ever imagine.
Fragile Things (2006)
“Let me tell you stories of the months of the year, of ghosts and heartbreak, of dread and desire. Of after-hours drinking and unanswered phones, of good deeds and bad days, of trusting wolves and how to talk to girls.”
Gaiman’s second short story collection, “Fragile Things: Short Fictions & Wonders” was published about ten years after the first one did, in 2006. Once again a twenty-pages-long Introduction informs the reader about what’s to be read: almost 30 short stories with uncountable references to works by other authors or Gaiman himself and quite a few original poems.
“In the sleepy English countryside at the dawn of the Victorian era, life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall. Young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester, but Victoria is as cold and distant as the star she and Tristran see fall from the sky one evening. For the prize of Victoria’s hand, Tristran vows to retrieve the star for his beloved. […]”
I think that “Stardust” is the only novel by Gaiman that gave me such a hard time to read. I must have started it at least five times, before I managed to actually finish it. Maybe I found the story too mushy for my taste, I don’t know. It has been turned into a film, though!
The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013)
“This is what he remembers, as he sits by the ocean at the end of the lane: A dead man on the back seat of the car, and warm milk at the farmhouse; An ancient little girl, and an old woman who saw the moon being made; A beautiful housekeeper with a monstrous smile; And dark forces woken that were best left undisturbed.”
“The Ocean at the End of Lane” is one of Gaiman’s latest works, as it was published in 2013. Narrating in first person, the hero tells us about what happened while he was a child and inconceivable dark powers threatened his family and the whole town. An easy-to-read book (took me a day to finish) that deals with the subject of adulthood. I really loved spotting the paraphrase of T.S. Eliot’s “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” that was turned into “In a handful of heartbeats […]” (p. 207).
Good Omens (1990)
“According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner. So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing.”
Last but not least, there’s Gaiman’s truly first novel, which he wrote in collaboration with Terry Pratchett (1948–2015). In “Good Omens” the son of Satan is born and Apocalypse is upcoming. But angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley, the representatives of Good and Evil on Earth respectively, are not looking forward to this change. They decide to work together, in order to prevent Apocalypse from happening with hilarious results.
I didn’t include “Anansi Boys” because I couldn’t find the book. Comics such as “The Sandman” and “Coraline” deserve their own posts that will be published in time.