Fragile Things is a collection of short stories and verse from multi award winning author, Neil Gaiman. Originally, I was going to give a brief review of each piece in the collection. However, as there are twenty seven stories and poems in total, I shall limit my review to what I consider the highlights of this collection, as well as some general observations.
The introduction to the book is written by Gaiman himself, and explains the origins of most of the work. All but one of the stories have seen light of day already, in a variety of different places, ranging from other compilations to being published online or appearing in tour programmes for Tori Amos. The never-seen-before piece is entitled ‘How to Talk to Girls at Parties’ and is a typically surreal offering. The narrator recalls an incident from his youth encapsulating the the awkwardness of young men trying to talk to young women but with Gaiman’s distinctive, otherworldly spin.
A number of the stories in this book were commissioned for various sources, which gives a rich range of content. The story ‘Goliath’ was written for the website associated with the film ‘The Matrix’. The story is inspired by some of the concepts used in the film trilogy, but uses Gaiman’s own backstory rather than being a story set in the Matrix universe. If anything, the story is more reminiscent of the stories of Philip K. Dick in mood and atmosphere, particularly the Dick short story entitled ‘The Adjustment Team’.
The short story ‘A Study in Emerald’ is a marvellous pastiche of Doyles’ Sherlock Holmes and Lovecrafts’ Cthulhu Mythos. As always, the narrator of the story is the stalwart Dr Watson but there is little else about the story that is traditional Holmes fare. Gaiman has taken both of the sources, mixed them expertly and made the darkly comic result his own. I imagine there are a few people who have pondered how well the Great Detective would fare against the Mythos, I must admit I had never considered what would happen if Holmes worked for the Mythos…
Another of the stories which draws upon another authors’ universe is the intriguing ‘The Problem of Susan’. The Susan in question is the one from the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ series by C.S. Lewis. Readers of that series may recall that Susan was no longer considered a ‘friend of Narnia because she’s too fond of lipsticks and nylons and invitations to parties’ [Fragile Things, p244]. Essentially when the other children went to Heaven, she was left behind. Gaiman offers us his insight on Susan’s life after this display of cosmic inequality, does a fondness for lipstick preclude a place in Heaven?
The award for Most Sinister Story in the Collection is hereby awarded to the tale ‘Closing Time’. Told as a story within a story, it is another anecdote from the weird-childhood-events part of Gaiman’s imagination. Another commissioned story; this one was requested to be in the style of M.R. James, something the author achieves admirably without merely cloning James’ writing style. Distictly chilling, this is one of, if not my favourite story in the collection and is a worthy addition to the genre of the ghost story.
The last story in the book, ‘The Monarch of the Glen’, is a treat for fans of Gaiman’s novel ‘American Gods’ as it continues the adventures of the protagonist, Shadow. The story is set in Scotland and is a reimagining of a key sequence in the saga of Beowulf. As Shadow has already been identified with elements of Norse and Germanic mythology in ‘American Gods’, the story works effortlessly, drawing on the ancient connection between Scotland and the Scandinavian countries for background colour.
The story ‘Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire’ is a hilarious gem, which according to the author’s notes has been lurking around for a number of years. It is cleverly constructed with the action switching between a baroque, gothic story and the author of said story, as he attempts to avoid the pitfalls of sterotyping and cliche.
To come to some sort of conclusion, then, this is a very solid collection of work. To be candid, I really have to be in the mood for poetry and I really wasn’t when I read this, so I just skipped them. They do, after all, take up only a few pages and Gaiman himself suggests they be considered a free bonus. To paraphrase, the book wouldn’t cost any less with the poems removed, so your not being ripped off ;-] As I say, among the stories there are no duds whatsoever, this is vintage Gaiman and I defy any fan not to enjoy this collection.