Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, Neil Gaiman

Fragile ThingsFrom "A Study in Emerald": It is the immensity, I believe. The hugeness of things below. The darkness of dreams. But I am woolgathering. Forgive me, I am not a literary man.

"A mysterious circus terrifies an audience for one extraordinary performance before disappearing into the night . . .Two teenage boys crash a party and meet the girls of their dreams--and nightmares . . .In a Hugo Award-winning story, a great detective must solve a most unsettling royal murder in a strangely altered Victorian England . . .These marvelous creations and more showcase the unparalleled invention and storytelling brilliance--and the terrifyingly dark and entertaining wit--of the incomparable Neil Gaiman. By turns delightful, disturbing, and diverting, "Fragile Things" is a gift of literary enchantment from one of the most original writers of our time."

I suppose I must have heard of Fragile Things before in the back of my mind, but I don't know why I didn't read it before. After all, it's Neil Gaiman, an amazing author, and it's a collection of fantasy short stories, which when done well, can be excellent. That said, I didn't really enjoy the first story, "A Study in Emerald", based of course on "A Study in Scarlet". Maybe it's because I haven't read the original story recently enough to get the subtle references to it, but I felt it didn't do the original justice or display Gaiman's genius. Some of the other stories were great, though, such as the third one, "October in the Chair", which is dedicated to Ray Bradbury and is indeed somewhat reminiscent of him. It was a great and entertaining story, with stories within stories. The premise was so great, and as he is wont to do, Gaiman gradually reveals more of it up until the end of the story, which contains more revelations. This happened in "A Study in Emerald", but less effectively, I think. The descriptions in "October in the Chair" of what the different months are like and of the fall scenery were great too, and I loved the ending so, so much, the way that Gaiman really brought this very good idea to life, although as he says in the introduction, Bradbury might have written it better. Still, he did a really good job. (Hint: Never listen to writers such as Neil Gaiman and John Green when they call a work of theirs bad. It's usually amazing, and then you feel envious, because if this is their bad stuff, what does their good stuff look like?)

I didn't like the verse style "stories", such as "The Fairy Reel" and "The Hidden Chamber", among a few others. The only poem I liked was "Instructions" (on what to do in a fairy tale); that was pretty funny and cool. I also enjoyed "The Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire." It exhibited another Gaiman trademark, that of turning the real world upside down, reversing everything. "A Study in Emerald" does this too, but here the stuff of 18th and 19th Gothic horror novels are reality, and the realm of fantasy is that of whole-wheat bread, cars, and computers. It was darkly humorous as well as silly, and though not one of Gaiman's best, very amusing. More brilliant and strange stories followed, and as in any short story collection, some of the stories were better than others. Overall, though, I loved the book, even though some of the stories were flops. I also really liked the background Gaiman gives about each of the stories in the introduction; it's worth reading, and there's a little surprise in it too. 

Something else I gleaned from reading Fragile Things is where Erin Morgenstern's inspiration for the structure and phrasing of her blog and her blurbs comes from. There were many phrases Gaiman used that Morgenstern has borrowed from him, "story-shaped" (she changes it to "novel-shaped") and "story-stuff" among them. The Night Circus definitely has Gaiman-esque elements to it as well. 

Anyway, I'm very glad I picked Fragile Things up. I'd say that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is still a better Gaiman work since some of these stories weren't to my liking, but it was an excellent collection full of "short fictions and wonders", which by the way seems like a phrase Erin Morgenstern might use. Gaiman has another earlier collection of short stories, Smoke and Mirrors, which I'll probably be checking out. Incidentally, it's subtitled "short fictions and illusions", which sounds intriguing.

339 pages. 

Rating: ****

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