Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman (Audiobook)

trigger warningMixed bag…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

This collection of short stories turned out to be something of a mixed bag. Ranging in length from a couple of minutes to an hour and a half (I was listening rather than reading), some of the shorter ones are so fragmentary as to be rather pointless, while a couple of the longer ones feel too long for their content. However there are some excellent stories in here too and, as I’d been told by so many people, Gaiman is a wonderful narrator.

As a fairly new convert to Gaiman’s work I was surprised to find that there are several stories in here that I had already come across elsewhere in other formats. This made me wonder how much new stuff there would be in the book for established fans, so it would probably be wise to check the contents list before purchasing.

There is a long introduction in which Gaiman explains the rationale for the collection. This may have been better if I’d been reading rather than listening, but on the audiobook it takes over an hour, most of which is made up of short introductions to each story explaining the inspiration for it. Some of these short introductions are as long as the stories themselves. I fear I clicked out of the introduction after 20 minutes – snippets of how a story came about because of something some bloke called Jimmy said down the pub one night failed to hold my attention. One of the drawbacks of audio is that it’s not possible to scan read sections like this, as I would with a paper or e-book.

Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman

I found the first few stories quite disappointing to be honest. The title, cover and introduction had all led me to think that the stories would be dark and chilling, but a lot of them aren’t. And while I think Gaiman does dark and chilling exceptionally well, I was less enamoured of his musing on the writing process by using a metaphor of making a chair, for example. I also found, and this is down to personal preference, that, of the stories I knew, I had on the whole preferred them in written format. Both Down to the Sunless Sea and The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains had worked brilliantly for me when I read them – the first as straight text and the second as a graphic novel – but didn’t have quite the same effect when listening, mainly because, although Gaiman’s narration was excellent, the voices didn’t gel with the ones I’d heard in my head. However, where I hadn’t read a story before, Click-Clack The Rattle Bag, for instance, then the narration often worked superbly.

These three stories were still amongst my favourites in the collection though, and here are another few that I particularly enjoyed:

Adventure story – a son sits with his elderly mother having tea and discussing his father, now deceased. In the course of the conversation his mother reveals the story of an adventure his father once had long ago as a young man. The adventure becomes progressively more fantastical, and the appeal comes from the matter-of-fact way the mother tells it and the son’s astonishment. Quite a short story this one, but cleverly done and enjoyable. I suspect the narration made this one work better than it would have on paper.

The Case of Death and Honey is a rather good spin on the Holmes stories, which provides an explanation for why the great man went off to keep bees at the end of his career. It’s set in China with Holmes on the trail of the answer to the ultimate mystery, and while it is somewhat far-fetched it’s well-written and interesting, and Gaiman’s Holmes feels quite authentic. This is another one I had already come across elsewhere – in the Oxcrimes collection published last year.

Nothing O’Clock is a Doctor Who story and I found it thoroughly enjoyable. It fits perfectly into the Doctor Who style and Gaiman’s narration of the many characters gives a unique voice to each. The story is imaginative and nicely chilling, but of course with the traditional happy ending we expect the Doctor to provide.

So quite a lot of good things in here overall, but also some that I found rather dull or a bit lightweight. A mixed bag – I’d say most readers will find some things to like in the collection but, like me, may also find there’s quite a lot that leaves them a little underwhelmed.

NB This audiobook was provided for review by the publisher, Audible UK.

Amazon UK Link
Audible UK Link
Amazon US Link
Audible US Link

Tuesday Terror! Click-Clack the Rattle Bag by Neil Gaiman

Turn out the lights…

 

On Sunday night, for some reason I couldn’t sleep – a very rare occurrence for me. So I decided to listen to a bit of my current audiobook – Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning – in the dead of night with the lights off. And this little story raised my hair and tingled my spine in the most delicious way, so it just has to be this week’s…

 

Tuesday Terror

Click-Clack the Rattle Bag by Neil Gaiman

 

trigger warning

 

The narrator is staying in his girlfriend’s new house – a rambling old pile with long corridors, creaky floors and dodgy electricity. His girlfriend has gone out to get a takeaway meal, leaving our narrator to look after her young brother. It’s the boy’s bed time, and he asks the narrator to walk up to his bedroom with him and tell him a story before he goes to sleep because, as he explains, he feels a bit scared in the old house and his bedroom is all the way up in the attic. He knows the narrator writes scary stories but says maybe he should tell a not-scary story instead.

spooky house

 

Now our narrator is just a young man himself, so he’s quite proud to have both his bravery and his story-telling skills appealed to in this way. So they leave the sitting-room and go into the corridor. The narrator clicks on the light switch…but nothing happens. Taking the boy’s hand, he sets off along the corridor and up the stairs, lit only by the pale light of the moon shining through the stairwell window. The narrator keeps up a brave face for the boy’s sake even though he’s feeling just a little spooked himself. And as they go, they chat about what story he should tell. The boy asks him if he knows the story of ‘Click-Clack the Rattle Bag’. No, our narrator replies, and so the boy begins to tell him…

Spooky_Moonlight_by_kiebitz

 

It’s only a short story but brilliantly effective, one of these ones that’s really enjoyably scary! The kind of story that a wicked adult might tell to a bunch of kids round a campfire late at night. But I’m going to tell you no more. I don’t think it would be half so much fun to read as to hear, so here’s the man himself reading it superbly. But don’t listen now! Wait until it’s dark, and you’re alone, and the wind is gently rattling through the branches of the trees outside…

 

 

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:         😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

 

It's a fretful porpentine!!
It’s a fretful porpentine!!

 

 

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Eddie Campbell

“…and that way is treacherous and hard”

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

the truth is a cave

You ask me if I can forgive myself?

I can forgive myself for many things. For where I left him. For what I did. But I will not forgive myself for the year that I hated my daughter…

So starts this dark tale of a journey, a quest into the Black Mountains to find a cave – to find the truth. Our narrator is a small man, a dwarf, but he’s strong and he’s driven; by what, we don’t yet know but we feel a slow anger in him, an undiminished determination despite his ten year search for the object of his obsession. As we meet him, he is about to hire a guide, Calum MacInnes, to take him to a cave on the Misty Isle which is reputed to be filled with gold…

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This book is nothing less than stunning. Gaiman’s wonderfully dark story is equalled and enhanced by the amazingly atmospheric illustrations of Eddie Campbell. The two elements – words and pictures – are completely entwined. There’s no feeling of the one being an addition to the other – each is essential and together they form something magical. The story is by turns moving, mystical, dramatic, frightening; and the illustrations, many of them done in very dark colours, create a sense of mirky gloom and growing apprehension. To avoid spoilers the pages I have shown are all from the beginning of the book, but as the story darkens, some of the later pictures are truly macabre and unforgettable.

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I am old now, or at least, I am no longer young, and everything I see reminds me of something else I’ve seen, such that I see nothing for the first time. A bonny girl, her hair fiery-red, reminds me only of another hundred such lasses, and their mothers, and what they were as they grew, and what they looked like when they died. It is the curse of age, that all things are reflections of other things.

I say that, but my time on the Misty Isle, that is also called, by the wise, the Winged Isle, reminds me of nothing but itself.

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Gaiman was apparently inspired to write the story by his visits to the Isle of Skye and the legends of the Hebrides. While the pictures quite clearly place the story in the Highlands – the kilts, the purples and greens, the blackness of the mountains – Gaiman has very wisely steered clear of any attempt to ‘do’ dialect. The book is written in standard English, but with the lush layering of traditional legends and with a rhythm in the words that really calls for it to be read aloud. Perhaps this isn’t surprising since the story was originally devised to be read by Gaiman himself at the Sydney Opera House with Campbell’s illustrations projected as a backdrop. I was the lucky, lucky recipient of a hardback copy of the book, but apparently the Kindle Fire edition has audio and video links, though to what I don’t know. However, the book is so beautiful that, devoted though I am to my Kindle, this is one where I would strongly recommend the paper version.

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All the way through, the story is foreshadowing the eventual end as if to suggest that all things are fore-ordained. It’s well worth reading the book twice in fact (it’s only 73 pages) – the first reading has all the tension of not knowing how it ends, while the second reading allows the reader to see how carefully Gaiman fits everything together to create the folk-tale feeling of inevitability. And then read it again a third time, just because it’s wonderful. I end where I began – stunning!

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NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Headline.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Tuesday Terror! Down to a Sunless Sea by Neil Gaiman

Twisted Grimms…

 

Fearie Tales is an anthology of short stories by various horror writers giving an updated twist to some of the folk tales of the Brothers Grimm. I’ve only read the first few so far, but have been very impressed by the quality and imagination – I’ll review it fully once I’ve finished it. Each of the new stories is preceded by the folk tale that inspired it. Like the originals, the new stories are more dark fantasies than straight horror, but none the less interesting for that. And that’s the case with the one I’ve chosen for this week’s…

TUESDAY TERROR!

fearie talesDown to a Sunless Sea by Neil Gaiman is a take on the traditional tale of The Singing Bone. In the original, a king offers to give his daughter in marriage to any man who kills the wild boar that is terrorising his forest. Two brothers set off, and one is helped to kill the boar by a ‘little man’ who recognises his goodness. The other brother then kills the good one, buries him, and steals the boar, thus gaining the Princess. But the murder is discovered when one of the murdered brother’s bones is turned into a mouthpiece for a horn, and each time the horn is blown, it plays a song telling the truth of the crime. The evil brother is punished by being sewn up in a sack and drowned…and quite right too!

* * * * * * * * *

The Thames is a filthy beast: it winds through London like a snake, or a sea serpent. All the rivers flow into it, the Fleet and the Tyburn and the Neckinger, carrying all the filth and scum and waste, the bodies of cats and dogs and the bones of sheep and pigs down into the brown water of the Thames, which carries them east into the estuary and from there into the North Sea and oblivion.

Gaiman’s take on the story is quite different, and in many ways much darker. A woman wanders the Rotherhithe docks ‘as she has done for years, for decades.’ No-one knows her story, until during a deluge you take shelter under a canvas awning and find the woman there. Without prompting, she tells you the story of her young son who ran away to sea and signed on with a stormcrow ship – one cursed by ill luck. And as the ship made its way home from his first voyage, disaster struck and the crew abandoned ship – finding themselves adrift in a lifeboat with food supplies running low…

‘I told him not to go to sea. “I’m your mother,” I said. “The sea won’t love you like I love you; she’s cruel.” But he said, “Oh Mother, I need to see the world. I need to see the sun rise in the tropics, and watch the Northern Lights dance in the Arctic sky, and most of all I need to make my fortune and then, when it’s made, I will come back to you, and build you a house, and you will have servants, and we will dance, Mother, oh how we will dance…”

I may well be the only person on the planet who has never read anything by Neil Gaiman – an omission I intend to rectify. The writing in this story is quite superb, building atmosphere with the lightest touch. The story is very short, just a few pages, but leaves the reader with images of horror, sorrow and a touch of madness. Every word adds something – nothing is wasted. The use of the second person puts the reader right into the story, under the awning with this woman who is frightening in the intensity of her grief.  The connection to the original only comes at the end and would be a major spoiler, but it becomes very clear how Gaiman has used the Grimm tale as inspiration for his own, and the theme of family betrayal is present here too, though in a much different form.

To be honest, if this was the only good story in the book (which it isn’t), it would be worth it for this one alone. Not terrifying, but chilling, with emotional depth, and mesmerising in the way it is done, this is a rare example of how effective the short story format can be.

Fretful porpentine rating    😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating            😀 😀 😀 😀 😀