Sunday, December 08, 2013

“Smoke and Mirrors” by Neil Gaiman – Unreal as Ordinary

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman – Front Cover
Neil Gaiman has a habit of bringing us fantastic and surrealistic stories with a colorful cast of characters, and his rather famous collection of stories, Smoke and Mirrors, may be considered as part of the pinnacle of his craft. In this collection of some thirty stories and poems, we are introduced to a strange world which on the surface seems like ours, but underneath it is very different and in some cases even unsettling.

The many things you will see happen in this world include an old woman buying the Holy Grail straight out of a shop, hitmen advertising themselves nonchalantly and even offering wholesale discounts, a boy forced to barter with a troll under a bridge, an angel bumming a smoke from a teenager, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As is always the case, from a technical standpoint Neil Gaiman accomplishes something amazing as he manages to bring the world and its unforgettable cast of characters to life through his seamless and free-flowing writing style. When he describes something or someone, I had absolutely no trouble imagining it and in some cases, even experience it with all five senses. In a book such as this one where the world itself could be considered as a main character, this writing style only pays dividend, allowing the reader to get emotionally-involved on a greater level. The pacing is also very smooth and steady, providing a good mix of thorough descriptions and plot progression, never making it feel as if he is rushing or advancing like a snail.

Story-wise, I have to say that Smoke and Mirrors is definitely one of the more interesting story collections I have read to date, providing not only entertainment but also exploring heavy themes such as dreams, the end of our world, sex, death, love, passion, and more. Some of the writings here are children’s stories reworked for adult audiences, while others are completely original and products of Gaiman’s own mind.

Every story in this book has a central theme, some kind of message that Gaiman is trying to pass along to his readers, and finding it is, in my opinion, half the fun of reading a work that is more removed from our reality with every paragraph. I feel like I also have to add that the book can feel quite unsettling at times, mainly due to the normalcy with which the characters view situations that would be considered extraordinary in our world… if you’re invested in it, you will feel like a stranger in a strange land.

All in all, Smoke and Mirrors is definitely a story collection I can recommend to anyone who enjoys surrealistic fantasy with true meaning. If you like the exploration of grand and existential themes, if you want to see just how deformed our world can get in the human mind, then give this collection a try… even if you don’t like one or two of its stories, it’s a virtual guarantee that most of them will speak to you in one way or another.

Neil Richard Gaiman (November 10, 1960)

Neil Gaiman

Personal site

Neal Gaiman is an English author whose efforts have mostly consisted of short and graphic novels, comic books, audio plays and he even dabbled in films. He received more than 24 awards for his books, including one International Horror Guild Award and one British Fantasy Award. Some of his better-known books include Stardust, The Alchemy of MirrorMask, and Smoke & Mirrors.

More of the Neil Gaiman's book reviews:
The Sleeper and the Spindle
Trigger Warning
Good Omens
The Graveyard Book

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