Review: The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman (UK edition)

Title: The View from the Cheap Seats
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP (11th April 2017)

‘Literature does not occur in a vacuum.
It cannot be a monologue. It has to be a conversation’

This collection will draw you in to exchanges on making good art and Syrian refugees, the power of a single word and playing the kazoo with Stephen King, writing about books, comics and the imagination of friends, being sad at the Oscars and telling lies for a living. Here Neil Gaiman opens our minds to the people he admires and the things he believes might just mean something – and welcomes us to the conversation too.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4 stars)

In THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS Neil Gaiman dips his toe into the non-fiction genre with a series of essays on a variety of topics. It is hard to sum up this collection, as the topics covered are so varied and different; they have also been written at various stages of the author’s life. To try and create some form of cohesion within the book the eighty-seven (if I haven’t miscounted) articles are split into ten loosely themed sections, but even those are chaotic in nature. It is, despite being non-fiction, very “Gaiman-esq” in theme and style – by which I mean, a hodgepodge of non-connected ideas that somehow mesh and form a solid and entertaining whole.

Since finishing reading THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS I have been looking forward to writing about it. I have had thoughts pop into my head that I have needed to jot down (or risk forgetting) about my thoughts for this book. THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS is a very clever book, filled with thoughts and ideas and explanations that will pull you in before you realise the danger. The depth and breadth of the topics covered in this book is, frankly, a bit of a rollercoaster ride – it feels at times almost like you’re in Gaiman’s head, but at the same time only getting a glimpse of a rather complex man.

What people get from this book I suspect will be very different. There are a lot of reasons to pick THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS up, not least that you’re a Neil Gaiman fan (of whatever, or all, mediums). Whatever your feelings about his fiction (and mine vary by the book) I expect you will be pleasantly surprised by this collection of essays – and they are, whatever their length, essays. There’s something for everyone in this collection; equally, not everything is for everyone. The joy of books, such as this, is this: you can dip in and out as you please, take what you want, and learn something new. Or perhaps re-learn something. There are a couple of times where there is an essay that cannibalises the one preceding it, this really didn’t work for me and I found it a little repetitive. The thing that made this book really work for me was that it reads as if Neil Gaiman was having a series of conversations with me.

In a lot of ways I suspect THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS can be read as something of an autobiography. There’s certainly a lot of Gaiman himself in there, haunting the pages. So too, though I imagine it is not designed as such, could writers find a guide of sorts hidden between the pages – at least one essay in this collection may inspire them, or guide them. THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS is at times both beautiful and complicated, but it is always easy to follow Gaiman’s words and to try and understand them. I will admit that there were times when pieces were not to my taste, or the topic under discussion did not interest me so I skimmed. That is, I think, kind of the point of this book. It certainly leaves you with ideas.

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