The Neil Gaiman Reader by Neil Gaiman
Hatchette, hb, £20.58
Reviewed by John C. Adams
When this tome pitched up on the list circulated by the BFS Review Coordinator to regular contributors I leapt at the chance to review it. When it arrived, I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in its 736 pages.
Neil Gaiman has been writing for decades in genre fiction, comedy, graphic novels, film and TV. He’s been awarded multiple Locus Awards, Eisner Awards, Nebula Awards, British Fantasy Awards, World Fantasy Awards, Shirley Jackson Awards and many, many more.
So. One of the world’s leading publishing houses decides to produce a reader showcasing the longstanding achievements and variety of one of their most successful authors. This is a really good idea where the fan base supports it, which is most certainly the case with Gaiman, whose depth of connection with his fans is genuinely heartwarming.
The genesis of the selection made here was that fans would take part in an Internet vote to have their favourite stories included in the reader. I’m so glad this was the style of approach because I can’t think of anyone better qualified to make that selection than diehard fans. As I read through the book, I was consistently aware of being in the company of loyal readers who had picked out the very best writing, and that was a real privilege. I think it’s essential to allow that kind of interaction because everyone who loves Gaiman’s writing has their own ideas about which stories are best or which of them most represent the variety of his work.
The content was presented chronologically, with the first story being ‘We Can Get Them For You Wholesale’ from 1984. The most recent was ‘Monkey and the Lady’ from 2018. In between were short stories, novellas and excerpts from five major novels: ‘Neverwhere’ (1996), ‘Stardust’ (1999), ‘American Gods’ (2001), ‘Anansi Boys’ (2005) and ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ (2013).
The short stories contained an immense variety of material, including intrusion fantasies. ‘Troll Bridge’ (1993) was my favourite one of those, and ‘The Problem of Susan’ (2004) was superb. Given that many readers are introduced to intrusion fantasies in childhood, and ‘The Narnia Series’ remains pre-eminent in its field, this was an excellent contribution to a continuing process of reflection on the enduring influence of CS Lewis.
A number of stories consisted of comic horror. ‘Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar’ (1998) was hilarious, as was ‘I Cthulhu’ (1986). I really enjoy comic horror done well, and there isn’t really enough of it about, plus I really love Lovecraft, so I was hooked. I also appreciated the SF comic story ‘Nothing O’Clock’ (2013), which is set within the Dr Who universe. In all these stories, the author’s love of HP Lovecraft and the Dr Who series (for which he has written scripts) was very evident.
I suspect that this book will prove incredibly popular with Gaiman’s army of existing fans, and it deserves to. In terms of lending libraries and fans lending it privately to newbies, it will be very influential indeed. The length and cost are probably a little bit much for someone totally new to Gaiman’s fiction, and the time to read it cover to cover represents an awful lot of commitment. The short excerpts from the novels were great if you’d already read them, but I found them a little confusing in the cases where I hadn’t. The best way into an author you haven’t read before probably remains a single volume of their work, either a short-story anthology or a bestselling novel that has stood the test of time, or perhaps just their most recent book. I think in that situation I would prefer that to jumping right into almost eight hundred pages straight off.
I loved this book. It was a true labour of love, for voting readers, author and reviewer alike!
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