Book review: Neil Gaiman flits mischievously through Trigger Warning
Gaiman presents a motley crew of fairy tales, folk tales, spine-tinglers, free verse and fan fiction in his new collection
by Neil Gaiman
Talking to Kazuo Ishiguro earlier this year about the complicated relationship between genre fiction and the literary mainstream, Neil Gaiman spoke of literary genres as "places that you don't necessarily want to go unless you're a native". Trigger Warning, Gaiman's third collection of short fiction, continues the theme by asking whether any fictions should in fact be "safe places", or whether their purpose should instead be to "hurt in ways that make [one] think and grow and change".
A section headed General Apology regrets its "hodge-podge and willy-nilly" nature - a motley crew of fairy tales, folk tales, spine-tinglers, free verse and fan fiction. One suspects, though, that Gaiman is not wholly contrite, and that the composition of the collection may itself be a gentle challenge to literary orthodoxy.
Amid the nasty surprises there are bold recastings of traditional stories - including a slick splicing of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty ( The Sleeper and the Spindle) in which Snow White becomes an adventurer queen - and moments of unexpected candour: The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury is, as much as a eulogy for a mentor, a lament for an imagined loss of language and "the slow disappearance of the things I had thought so safely mine". Gaiman also does a good line in dismal seascapes, from the ghoulish drama of Down to a Sunless Sea to the down-at-heel, Larkinesque dreariness of My Last Landlady, in which "loveless folk" eat "slippery eggs" before meeting a sticky end.
Perhaps inevitably, a number of the stories misfire: a Doctor Who pastiche feels jarringly out of place, while an otherwise promising story about a djinn who finds himself unable to grant wishes ends in disappointing sentimentality. Similarly those who are, in Gaiman's words, "Frightened, disturbed or terminally puzzled by poetry" are unlikely to find illumination in these pages.
Overall, however, many of the stories here are little more than imaginative flourishes, between which Gaiman flits mischievously.