Book review: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman - that sinking feeling

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 May, 2015, 10:51pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 May, 2015, 11:08pm

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances
by Neil Gaiman
William Morrow

Neil Gaiman's writing is so present, so engaging, that it can send spasms of bone-chilling terror through your body - and your reaction will still be, "Please sir, I want some more."

Most of his "short fictions and disturbances" in Trigger Warning have previously been published; several are award winners. Pop culture references are fitting for a mostly sinister gathering that includes Sherlock Holmes ( The Case of Death and Honey), Dr Who ( Nothing O'Clock) and The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury.

The master of the first-person macabre seems to be channelling Shirley Jackson one minute, Arthur Conan Doyle the next and Edgar Allan Poe overall. A piece that puts me in thematic mind of Poe, My Last Landlady ("last" being the operative word) was written with dark intent for a publication of the World Horror Convention. I know this because Gaiman told me so, or so it seemed, in his chatty introduction that offers his personal spin on each of the "disturbances" that follow.

He writes that one of the shorter pieces, Adventure Story, could be seen as a companion piece to his most recent novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but it seems to owe more to the David Wallace novel Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions.

Gaiman's characters are often ordinary people who encounter extraordinary - or lethal - situations and his stories take ominous turns. If anyone is seemingly innocent - a child asking to be told a bedtime story, for instance - that should trigger a warning. Orange is told from one point of view, a young woman being interrogated by police in light of an event. Best not to give spoilers here. Gaiman loses his voice in hers. They become one. It's an exercise and a feat all at once.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is the longest and most gripping piece: it won the 2010 Shirley Jackson and the 2012 Locus Poll awards as best novelette and was released as a book illustrated by Eddie Campbell and a CD, with Gaiman reading and music by the FourPlay String Quartet at the Sydney Opera House.

It builds from an unrelentingly cold, dreary place to a shattering "aha" moment that exemplifies the theatricality of Gaiman's writing. He is nothing if not a presence, in public life and in his writing, which owns a unique corner of the bestsellers' shelf. The new offering in this collection, Black Dog, revisits the world of American Gods, a fan-favourite novel that is being adapted for cable TV.

The author signs the introduction to Trigger Warning with his name, followed by "In a cabin in the dark woods" - "dark" being one clue to the contents, "Neil Gaiman" being the other.

Tribune News Service