The Sandman 7: Brief Lives – The Nuances of Metafiction


Brief Lives (The Sandman, #7)Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

<spoiler alert>

This is a fairly straightforward story in an otherwise complex, meandering narrative, probably because this is the turning point for the larger Sandman story leading into its big climax.

It starts by reminding the reader of a sacred, severed head on a desolate Greek island, that has a connection to the Endless family. Leaving the reader with that thought, the story moves on to the thus far neglected character of Delirium, the youngest, most tragic of the Endless. Delirium is in disrepair,  floating bewildered in chaotic surroundings and once mistaking a stranger for her sister Death. Luckily she is rescued (or is that the bystanders who’re rescued?) from her meltdown, by Desire frequenting the same BDSM-themed private party. That Desire’s arena slightly overlaps with Delirium in a place such as this, is the first of many meta-fiction flourishes in this book.

Delirium breaks down (literally into colourful butterflies) before confessing that she misses her brother Destruction. But as neither Desire nor its twin Despair support her quest, Delirium reluctantly goes in search of Dream. Dream is in the throes of heartbreak when Delirium reaches him (another meta-fiction touch). This chapter where the two siblings talk is one of the sweetest, most heart-wrenching pieces in the entire Sandman arc. Even Dream’s forbidding, aloof aura is melted by Delirium’s touching vulnerability and he agrees to aid her on her quest.

The story follows their adventures as they hunt down Destruction’s old friends to seek him out. Every lead runs dry or dies mysteriously. The most wonderful of these stories is their meeting with Ishthar, a strip-club dancer with a history that even a colleague with a degree in Women’s Studies, doesn’t recognize. I loved this story for two ideas that it brought to fore – the origin (and death) of gods and that Love and Destruction are soulmates.

Dream returns from his quest empty-handed and much changed by its experiences. A sibling relationship has been rekindled, a missing sibling found and lost again, a love laid to rest and finally, a prophesy sought and paid for, with dire consequences. As Despair puts it, “You cannot seek Destruction and return unscathed.”

View all my reviews or read just The Sandman reviews.

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