Book Review of Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman


Title and Author: Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

Publication Date: February 2015

Genre: Short Story Collection, Speculative Fiction

How I got it: Bought from Amazon when it went on a kindle daily deal



Trigger Warning is full of the creepy and unsettling. With a few exceptions, these short stories and poems give voice to characters who are often voiceless—children and elderly, dwarfs and statues, fairytale princesses and imaginary friends. Even with those few stories that depict an already well-voiced character—such as Sherlock Holmes in “The Case of Death and Honey”—Gaiman does so in unique ways. For instance, the aforementioned story mixes the voice of a retired Sherlock Holmes obsessed with beekeeping with that of a rural Chinese beekeeper who isn’t very popular in his village. It’s an unusual combination, that absolutely works.

Here's an illustration from the print version of this tale by Eddie Campbell.
Here’s an illustration from the stand-alone print version of this tale by Eddie Campbell.

If I had to pick a favorite in the collection, it would be “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains,” a heartbreaking, morally ambiguous, treasure hunting tale. This is a reprint, but despite having read 2/3rds of the stories in this collection, I had somehow missed this one. The story opens with a dwarf going to a farm, and asking a man to be his guide to the cave in the black mountains that’s filled with treasure. But what seems like a fairly straight forward treasure quest is anything but, and Gaiman’s melancholy tone sets that up from the very beginning, before the reader knows what’s going on. I’m not often surprised by twists, and I did figure out the twist before the climax, but it still made my stomach flip, in a good way. This is the kind of story you’re going to want to discuss with someone else after you’ve read it (thankfully, a coworker who’d read the collection obliged).

Apparently, Gaiman has read this story with an orchestra and illustrations. I would love to listen to that! He’s a wonderful reader. When he came to Nashville, I went and heard him read from The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It was a stormy night, and his voice combined with the thunder and the passage he read gave me goosebumps. If you’ve never heard him read before, go listen to some YouTube videos. Here’s him reading “Click Clack the Rattlebag,” another scary story from this collection.

Many of the stories are reprints, and one I remembered quite well from the first time I read it is the super creepy “Feminine Endings,” which I originally read in Nightmare Magazine. And it’s still just a creepy. In this story, a man who works as a human statue writes a love letter to a woman he sees in the park, and boy is this one love letter I NEVER WANT TO RECEIVE. I love Gaiman’s horror because he doesn’t go for the sudden shock, but rather the gradual build-up of unease. Despite having read the story first many years ago, I still remembered practically every detail. Shiver.

Another reprint I had not yet read is “The Sleeper and the Spindle,” a fairytale retelling that turns the passive fairytale princesses Snow White and Sleeping Beauty into not so passive agents of their own futures. It’s absurd this was my first reading of it, since I’m such a fairytale fan(atic). When I got to this story in the collection, I decided to read the version illustrated by Chris Riddell, and the illustrations are lovely. The story is A+, but it’s definitely worth checking out the illustrated version. I bought it when it came out, but when I read Gaiman’s Hansel and Gretel, which is essentially a translation of the tale versus a short story retelling it, I assumed “The Sleeper and the Spindle” was the same. But I was quite wrong! The story is utterly original and empowering, and the art intricate and memorable.

There were many more I loved. I’ve already mentioned the Sherlock Homes story, but there’s also a Doctor Who one (oh, nerdy delight!), and I also enjoyed “Black Dog,” which features Shadow from American Gods, I loved this novelette.

Obviously, with so many favorites, Trigger Warning is an excellent collection. Even though I’d already read many of the stories, I enjoyed revisiting them. Neil Gaiman is a master at short stories. While certainly those who already appreciate Neil Gaiman’s fiction should read this, it would also make a great entry point for those unfamiliar with his writing.

Rating: 4/5

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