I've love reading Neil Gaiman's books since I discovered Sandman. I listened to The Ocean at the End of the Road on audible last year, and enjoyed his short stories in several different anthologies. So I listened closely on my way to work when I heard Gaiman giving an interview on NPR. As part of the interview, he read aloud part of The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains, and I was entranced. I found the book on one of my trips to the library I could read it.
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains
The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains is a graphic novel with haunting illustrations by Eddie Campbell. It feels shorter than a typical novel--more like a novella or a short story in terms of word count. Yet each scene has an intensity and dread that builds to a harrowing climax. The main character is a man the size of a dwarf, but he reveals that he can run faster and longer than a normal man, and he's far stronger than he looks. He opens the story with a heart-rending monologue about whether he can forgive himself for the things he's done, and he can, except for the year he spent hating his daughter. The mystery of the man's daughter and her cruel fate hang over him as he journeys to a cave filled with cursed gold. His guide, a wolfish man, is a former reaver with dark secrets of his own. He warns the dwarf about the curse, which made life seem duller, colder, and less beautiful after he took the gold.
This book is excellent for anyone who enjoys dark fantasy or graphic novels. It's creepy psychological horror at its best--a treat for all Neil's fans.
Smoke and Mirrors
After reading The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, I decided I'd like to read more of Neil Gaiman's short fiction. On my next visit to the library, I found a copy of his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors, so I decided to check it out. While a few of the stories fell flat for me, most were creepy and brilliant, and one or two stand out as incredible works of art.
In particular, I loved Gaiman's "Snow, Glass, and Apples," a memorable and terrifying retelling of "Snow White" from the point of view of her perhaps-not wicked stepmother. Likewise, though I originally avoided reading "Murder Mysteries" (I'm not a fan of the mystery genre), once I read it, it became one of my favorite stories in the book. The story within a story is deeply compelling, and once it starts to fit within the larger picture and the two stories merge, it becomes a haunting tale of love, death, and regret. Gaiman has a gift for drawing a reader into a story only to reveal that the true story is far deeper than the one you originally thought you were reading.
The only stories that didn't work for me seemed ones with a strong masculine point of view. For example, while I appreciated the writing and the story from "Looking for the Girl," it didn't move me all the much, perhaps because I just don't relate to the male gaze it depicts. Still, several stories did give me a interesting glimpse into a man's POV, including "Foreign Parts" and "Mouse." This last story is another great example of the true story not being what you think it is. The main character agonizes over killing a mouse, yet is coldly unsympathetic to his wife after she has an abortion at his behest. It takes talent to make such a selfish and unlikable character conflicted and sympathetic, suggesting that he's buried his emotions so much that he uses symbolic acts to express what he can't even allow himself to consciously think.
Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes dark, yet whimsical fantasy or horror with a touch of comedy.
This is another short story collection that I checked out from my local library. I'm a fan of Neil Gaiman, and I really enjoyed reading Smoke and Mirrors, so I figured I'd read another of his short story collections, Fragile Things. Besides, I've been writing a lot of short stories lately, so I thought Gaiman's stories would be a good inspiration.
Overall, this collection is even stronger than Smoke and Mirrors. Every story hooked me, and many of them left a lasting impression. I loved "October in the Chair" which had all the ethereal beauty of Gaiman's best stories, yet with a creepy, unsettling note that felt more terrifying for being understated. Likewise, the bizarre, surreal world of "A Study in Emerald" left me deeply uneasy (in the best kind of way), all the more so for the main character's placid acceptance of a horrifying status quo. Other stories, like "Feeders and Eaters" or "Bitter Grounds" had more overt horror.
Not all the stories were creepy, however. "The Problem of Susan" addresses the casual cruelty of C.S. Lewis' dismissal of Susan at "The Last Battle." It's a thoughtful story that manages to call into question the entire "Narnia" series, or at least C.S. Lewis' intentions with it, while telling a haunting story of survival. Fragile Things finishes with a novella featuring Shadow, the hero of Gaiman's American Gods. The novella is easy to follow even if you haven't read American Gods, though it definitely leaves the reader wanting to know more about Shadow and his past.
I'd definitely recommend this books to anyone who enjoys dark fantasy and science fiction. As I've mentioned before, short stories can be great to read if you feel you don't have the mental endurance to dig into a novel, and this book has a wide variety of fascinating tales.