For The Guardian:
The Sandman author’s new collection veers from masterful prose to embarrassing poetry…
This is a new collection of 23 short stories and poems that will delight Gaiman’s army of fans. But what about new readers? Almost alone in the universe, I found his last novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, unconvincing. So here was another chance – many chances – to discover where the reputation comes from.
Let me say this. It’s not from his poetry. The book opens with Making a Chair – and at the start of stanza five we get: “Making a book is a little like making a chair / Perhaps it ought to come with warnings / Like the chair instructions.” How could any writer with even a passing acquaintance with the glorious canon of English-language poetry kick off a collection with a poem this mundane unless writing for children? Meanwhile, “the retired dentist from Edgbaston” in My Last Landlady reads like a jejune parody of Eliot’s “small house-agent’s clerk” from The Wasteland; in fact, it is supposed to be a “scary” poem but the only thing scary about the poetry in this collection is its inclusion.
I’m afraid I didn’t much enjoy the 20-odd page introduction either: “I wrote this story on the Isle of Skye, while my then girlfriend Amanda had flu and tried to sleep it off. When she awoke I would bring her soup and honeyed drinks and read her what I had written of the story…” I’m just not sure how Gaiman wants us to take passages like this. Indeed, the introductory tone seemed generally designed to address some kind of perpetually wilting teenage goth. “There are things that profoundly upset me when I encounter them … But they teach me things … and if they hurt, they hurt in ways that make me think and grow and change.”