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Author: various – ed. by Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio

Title: Stories

Publisher: Headline

Hardback: 427 pages

ISBN: 978-0-7553-3660-9

Price: £18.99

Publication Date: 15/06/2010

This anthology grew out of Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio’s frustration with the boundaries that genre has placed on writers. In Stories they have brought together authors that you will have heard of and some that you won’t, from an array of genres and with tales on topics as diverse as a hitman working on Christmas Eve, bullying, acid-fuelled television shows, birds in the deep depths of space, a meta-story in which a character questions his reality and dealing with the loss of a child. The result is a wonderful, beguiling experience, where the story reigns supreme.

And rather than allow my course to be charted by conventional ways of reading – front to back, from first chapter to second and so on – I chose at random, creating my own unique path through the tales contained within. It feels almost wrong to pick out individual stories, but I have chosen two to focus upon.

The first is Gaiman’s own offering to the anthology, ‘The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains’, set in Scotland in the time of the King Over the Water. As with many of Gaiman’s stories there is a journey, as Calum MacInnes guides a man searching for the Misty Isle, with its cursed cave reputed to be filled with riches. But as this beautiful, haunting tale unfolds the true nature of the journey begins to emerge; one of loss, of revenge and of redemption.

The second story is Roddy Doyle’s ‘Blood’, in which a man who “grew up in Dracula’s city” and “walked past Bram Stoker’s house every day”, begins to experience a craving for blood. By invoking these names associated with vampires, Doyle plays with the reader – we are never sure quite what is happening to the man. Is he still human or something else? And why does he growl at the thought of blood? There is a constant tension as the man seeks to slake his thirst, a question of how far he is willing to go. But it is also shot through with moments of humour. He attempts to buy iron tablets at a chemist’s, and when he finds out that he must have a prescription he tries to hide his embarrassment by buying condoms. And at it’s conclusion Doyle artfully leaves the reader in the same situation as the unnamed man – thirsting for more.

For Gaiman, a story’s success is measured by its ability to make the reader ask one question: “…and then what happened?” Time and again I found myself asking that question as I traversed the landscape of this anthology. It is brilliant, spellbinding and I would urge you to read it. For then, you to will find yourself asking: “…and then what happened?”

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