Smoke & Mirrors

Reading Challenge book 10 – A book of short stories

Smoke and Mirrors, by Neil Gaiman

Amazon link here

Selecting a volume of short stories to read was hard. To write a good short story takes a lot of skill, and I think it’s a different skill to writing a full-length book. While volumes of short stories typically have some gems, there are often a lot of duds as well.

My first choice was one of hubby’s books, a collection of apocalyptic short stories. I read the first and enjoyed it, but it left me feeling pretty cruddy. In a flash of insight, I decided that reading about the world ending in different depressing ways over and over again might accelerate my mood from cruddy to miserable, so I parked it.

Choice no. 2 was Truth and Dare, a collection of short stories confirming the truth we all know – high school is painful -and written for those who dare to be different. The premise sounds lame, but I selected this anthology because it included a short story by one of my favourite authors, Sarah Rees Brennan (check out Queen of Atlantis – it’s free and I think it’s excellent). In the past when I’ve bought anthologies that she’s been included in I really enjoyed them, but this collection lacked oomph and didn’t do it for me. Even Sarah Rees Brennan’s short story was cute but lacking bite. Maybe I’m just too old for books about high-school age kids!

So we came to choice 3. Controversially I’ve never particularly got on with the little Neil Gaiman I’ve tried, but I read a sample of Smoke and Mirrors and I really enjoyed it. Thanks Amazon.

Smoke and Mirrors is a collection of short stories that all include magic somehow. For me, there were a few memorable stories, but the majority were filler – I’d describe them as ‘real-life grit’. You know, the kind of contemporary fiction that shows life without a rose-tinted filter; instead life is gritty and depressing and often meaningless, and the books have an indecisive ending. This is never something I’ve really appreciated, or understood – it’s a massive hole in my understanding of literature. Anyway, I think that these stories were well-written, but not at all to my taste.

Highlights of the anthology were:

  • Snow, Glass, Apples (a retelling of Snow White from the step-mother’s point of view, very very cleverly-done);
  • The Wedding Present (a sekrit short story hidden in the introduction, about a letter describing the bride and groom’s life from an AU; it’s better than I made it sound);
  • Chivalry (a charming tale of a knight on a quest to win the Holy Grail from its prized place on an old lady’s mantelpiece);
  • The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories (outlining concisely why movies based on books are not that similar at all).


Hrm, I feel churlish as that’s not that many highlights. I’d be interested in knowing how Neil Gaiman fans got on with this collection. I’m still not sure if I’m just not a fan of his, or because his short-story writing just isn’t all that.


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