Book Review: “Trigger Warning” (2015) by Neil Gaiman



Much like Fragile Things before it (review here), Gaiman’s third short-story collection, Trigger Warning, is a collection of bits and pieces, scraps of stories that he has collected over the years and has now thrown together into a single volume. In the introduction, Gaiman admits that this book does not play by the rules:

I firmly believe that short story collections should be the same sort of thing all the way through. They should not, hodgepodge and willy-nilly, assemble stories that were obviously not intended to sit between the same covers. They should not, in short, contain horror and ghost stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry, all in the same place. They should be respectable.
This collection fails that test.

The good news is that the quality of Trigger Warning‘s material does not vary quite as wildly as the entries in Fragile Things did. Some tales are still significantly better than others, but overall, the bar has undoubtedly been raised; it seems that Gaiman is still growing as a writer and getting better all the time, making world domination a likely prediction for, say, 2020. There are still some duds in here though, ranging from generally “meh” to deeply silly, which is why I decided this collection only three stars, like Fragile Things before it.

However, the collection does have a few saving graces. First of all, it showcases the incredibly wide range of Gaiman’s imagination. In just over 300 pages, he takes us to mysterious misty islands, a lunar labyrinth, a time prison… And a B&B in Brighton. In “The Thing About Cassandra,” a young man finds out that the girlfriend he made up as a teenager actually exists – and really wants to see him. “Feminine Endings” gives us a love letter written by a human statue, silently watching his love from afar, waiting, longing. “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” is so very Gaiman it’s enough to make any fan of his work cry and “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” is as wonderful a eulogy as you will ever read.

There were three stories that were of particular interest to me. “The Case of Death and Honey” is Gaiman’s second Sherlock Holmes story after his fantastic Lovecraft-inspired tale “A Study in Emerald,” which can be read in its entirety here. This time, the passing of his brother Mycroft inspires the detective to solve the greatest mystery of all: death. It shows Gaiman’s great love for the characters – with his own little spin on their universe. Secondly, there is “Nothing O’Clock,” the Doctor Who episode that never was. It has an inventive villain and a nice line here and there, but again, it is Gaiman’s fondness of the Eleven and Amy era that shines through and makes the story memorable. Finally, there is the collection’s pièce de résistance, “Black Dog,” a continuation of Shadow’s adventures after the events of American Gods and “The Monarch of the Glen.” Shadow is still on his way back to America, but finds himself in a spot of trouble in the Peak District. There is the return of an old friend, a bleak and desolate place full of mystery and darkness… It took me right back that sense of dread and wonder I felt when I read American Gods for the first time, the feeling that got me hooked on Gaiman for life - and makes me even more excited about the prospect of the upcoming American Gods TV series by Bryan Fuller. Seriously, I can’t wait.

As a collection, Trigger Warning has its issues, but I still savoured every single word as I read it. I have tried to be as objective as I possibly can, but… I just really really love Neil Gaiman you guys. I am absolutely fascinated by the way his mind works and he is one of the few authors whose interviews I actively seek out. In fact, one of my favourite parts of the book is the introduction where Gaiman writes about how fiction can scar you and goes through the stories one by one, offering anecdotes on what inspired them and how they came to be. I relished those pages and it really makes me wish he would write a collection of essays or a memoir of some kind, because I want more.

In this introduction, Gaiman writes that he loves short stories because they are “the places where I get to fly, to experiment, to play. I get to make mistakes and to go on small adventures.” And that is exactly what he does in Trigger Warning. He plays, experiments, and sometimes he makes mistakes. But by God, do I love to watch him try.


(Note: So much so that I initially gave this collection four stars, but then decided against it and, for the very first time, changed my rating after I had first posted the review.)

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: “Trigger Warning” (2015) by Neil Gaiman

  • February 16, 2015 at 11:10 pm

    I have always been a bit prejudiced against short stories – for no reason that I can articulate, which is kind of what makes it prejudice instead of an opinion based on past experience – but I might give Neil Gaiman a shot with this one. The combined factors of my love for Neil Gaiman (and the fact that I found a free e-version of “The Thing About Cassandra” in the Android app store a few weeks back) and the points you made in your reply to my opinion of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (I normally don’t like the obsession this world seems to have with “getting out of your comfort zone”, but I think it applies here) make that I might give this collection a try. I still have a gift card in my wallet. Perhaps a trip to the bookstore is in order.

  • February 17, 2015 at 6:48 am

    I have to admit that the short story is not my favourite form either – but over the years, I have figured out why. When I really love a book, I love to lose myself in it for hours on end. However, if I want to read a short-story collection in that time, I will need to readjust and reacquaint myself with new settings and new characters at least four or five times, which really takes me out of the reading flow. It’s all starting and stopping instead of riding a long wave, and my attention span struggles to keep up.

    Also, I mostly have an interest in “getting out of your comfort zone” when it comes to ideas – and thus, literature. Think of it as exercise for the mind (and try not to picture a little anthropomorphic brain lifting weights, because I just did).

    • February 23, 2015 at 9:43 am

      That’s kind of how I feel about short stories too. When you’re reading them it takes so much mental energy to reorient yourself with each story. But lately I’ve found that I really enjoy short stories in audiobook form. They’re kind of like little story podcasts. I listened to both My True Love Gave to Me and Get in Trouble as audiobooks and had a lot of fun with them.


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