Illustration by Elise Stevens.
If you thought that Roald Dahl’s children’s books were deliciously gruesome (and they are), wait until you see what he has in store for the adults. In Kiss Kiss, Dahl combines horror and comedy to give us eleven memorable short stories. He obviously delights in making his readers feel as uneasy as possible right before pulling the rug out from under them, grinning at the shocked look on our faces. As a teacher, I get to experience some of this joy myself. I am currently teaching this collection to a group of sixteen-year-old students, and every week, I get to watch them as they slowly realise what is going on in each story. One by one, they all suddenly turn to me and go: “Ooohhhhhhh! Oh God, that’s terrible!”
Vlada Roslyakova by Pierluigi Maco for Vogue China (January 2007).
If you are interested in gender, gothic writing, and fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is a book that should be at the very top of your To Read list (as well as Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Becoming The Villainess - write that down). It is one of those titles that cannot be avoided in certain circles and frankly, it is a miracle that I didn’t read it sooner.
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.
This book reminded me a lot of a That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch where David Mitchell is planning out the next episode of their show: “I think it should go: hit, miss, hit, hit, miss, miss, miss, hit, miss, hit, hit.” When Robert Webb asks him why they even have to include the misses (because they are such a bother to write), Mitchell replies that they have to “perversely include about 50% deliberately unamusing material” because that is what people expect from a sketch show.
B.J. Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories reads a lot like a sketch show, consisting of one “wouldn’t it be funny if” scenario after the other: what if an Ugandan war lord went out on a date? What if there was a Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela? Appropriately, One More Thing has about 100 pages of misses that could have, and should have, been cut.
Libby Masters (“Masters of Sex”).
I came across this tiny little book in an antiques store in West Kirby and the second I laid eyes on it I knew that I had to have it (and the owner gave it to me for free because sometimes the world is wonderful like that). I’d been curious about Patricia Highsmith’s work for some time, the title is hilarious, and the serenely smiling 1950’s housewife on the cover made it even better.
“Cabinet of Curiosities” (1690s, Domenico Remps).
Reviewing a short story collection is always tricky; in most cases, the quality of the material vastly differs every couple of pages, ranging from absolute genius to “why did you even bother including this.” Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges excepted, of course. Borges is forever and always the exception to every rule ever.