Wow! E.T.A. Hoffmann's stories are totally stunning...a real rollercoaster ride! I'd just finished the 'Weird Tales Vol 1' collection and was hungry for more so I plumped for this collection.
The first thing that was a bit of a surprise was that this collection concentrates less on the sinister (or horrific) and more on the fantastic (or fairytale), the exception being "The Sandman" of course.
The collection includes "The Golden Pot", "The Sandman", "Princess Brambilla", "Master Flea" and "My Cousin's Corner Window". "The Sandman" of course is an absolute classic story that is truly unsettling to read. "The Golden Pot" and "Master Flea" are amazingly surreal fairy tales that just have to be read to be believed and I'm not even going to attempt to summarise them. However the three stories "The Sandman", "The Golden Pot" and "Master Flea" are a good litmus test for the reader - if you don't like any of these stories then you may as well avoid anything else by Hoffmann.
The only disappointing story for me was "Princess Brambilla" which has its moments and cracks along at a rapid pace but in the end is just too chaotic to be that fulfilling to read. Hoffmann certainly seems to like identity-confusion in his stories and this one has it in spades where the characters seem to switch identities throughout. Don't get me wrong, the story is still a fun read and would probably improve on a second reading, which was the case with "The Golden Pot".
Although I didn't actually read them in order I think the collection works well. "The Sandman" seems to be an obligatory inclusion to any Hoffmann collection but in this book it acts as a bit of a counterpoint to the fantasy/fairy tales by introducing a darker element to the book. Also the final story is a fitting way to end the book. Whereas the other stories are very surreal, "My Cousin's Corner Window" has no fantastic elements but essentially consists of a dialogue between a man and his crippled cousin discussing certain characters in a market place that can be viewed from a window. It's not exactly realism but compared to Hoffmann's other tales it seems a lot calmer.
Despite the slight dip in quality with 'Princess Brambilla' this collection is so close to perfection...so 5 stars it is!
E.T.A. Hoffmann is, in my opinion, one of the best and, sadly, unknown authors ever. I came across his name in a study of German Romanticism and even now whenever I want to escape this mundane reality I turn to his tales. Although known for the Nutcracker, his other tales are far more beautiful, moving and fantastic. The Golden Pot is perhaps the best story I have ever read. For anyone wishing so submerge him/herself in another world for a little while, a world of magic, beauty and horror, this is the best book one could choose. Each of his tales is unique, fantastic and exquisite.
Hoffmann was a great story teller. I had read his novel The Devil's Elixirs and really enjoyed it so I already knew what a great writer he was. The stories in this book confirm it. The translation is fluent. Well recommended.