15 November 2009

Review: M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's M is for Magic was a disappointment. I hate to say that because I love Gaiman and don't want to feel that way. And generally his books are so good that when I feel kind of iffy about something, I feel like it must be my fault rather than his. How could it be my fault when an author's book doesn't live up to my expectations? Well, in this case, I didn't notice that it was a compilation of eleven stories, of which I'd already read (and in most cases, owned!) nine.

Opening paragraph from "The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds":
I sat in my office, nursing a glass of hooch and idly cleaning my automatic. Outside the rain fell steadily, like it seems to do most of the time in our fair city, whatever the tourist board says. Heck, I didn't care. I'm not on the tourist board. I'm a private dick, and one of the best, although you wouldn't have known it; the office was crumbling, the rent was unpaid, and the hooch was my last.
The idea of M is for Magic was to select and group together stories that might appeal to children. Some stories are meant to be scary, others funny. There is poetry and prose, genres children might enjoy but never have encountered (for example, the noir styled "The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds").

I'm always a bit iffy about short stories; I feel short-changed by them. Either the story is so interesting that I want need to read more, but can't because hey! short story! Or I find them a bit of a slog with a too-contrived pay off at the end or no pay-off at the end. Maybe weak short stories bother me more than weak novels because it's so compressed that the problems are more glaring than when they're spread over several hundred pages. And I do have a multitude of problems with most of the stories in this book.

"The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds" is so jam-packed with references to folk and fairytales that I could barely pay attention to the actual plot, such as it is, and worse I found it very forced feeling. I saw is described somewhere as reading like a mad-lib, where random words and names were inserted and that rings pretty true. It felt to me as if Gaiman had a list of characters he wanted to mention and he just kept writing till he'd got them all in. "Troll Bridge" is a slog.

I like the idea of "October in the Chair" but don't find it complete enough. "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" is another one with an interesting premise, but every time I've tried to read it, I find myself skimming rather than paying attention. There are a few stories here that I like: I enjoyed "Sunbird" when first I read it and "Chivalry," which feels like a story that I might like even more if it were a part of a novel. The best piece in the collection was "The Witch's Headstone," an excerpt from the then forthcoming The Graveyard Book, which I should be reviewing shortly. (It's written, but I need to type it up.) As an excerpt, I found it quite lovely, but it also left me wanting. It was so obviously a snippet of something larger and served its purpose in leading me to buying the novel.

I think short stories are a good medium for children and young adults, but they so rarely work for me, especially when I've already read them once. I wish I'd paid more attention when I bought the book because I wouldn't have bothered if I'd known it was mostly old news to me.

Neil Gaiman has written all kinds of books, screenplays, comics, short stories, and poems, for adults, young adults and children. If you've not read his books, you should. He has a website that I'm too lazy to look up the link for at the moment. Google won't let you down.

Gaiman, Neil. M is for Magic. New York: Harper Trophy, 2008.
Finished: 12 August 2009
Rating: 3 of 5 carved and eaten sunbirds
This was my 3rd book in August and my 32nd in 2009.

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