Friday, August 10, 2007

Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman

Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman, was my latest concentrated listen, over 10 hours, while driving to and from Knoxville, TN. It was read by the author, which was just right. The two dozen or so short stories, poems, and one novella, work a linked and continuous sort of magic on you. The idea that stories are important to us as people, in many complex ways, appears frequently, as do a few characters that span stories, and a number of other important motifs.

Those of you who liked Stardust will find this is quite different. Some of these stories venture over the line into light horror (often just over a hedge from fantasy). Some have despicable characters. Some get explicit sexually. All are compelling and get under your skin. All made me think. Some I will carry with me a long time. None, even the tough ones, ride uncomfortably in my mind - though some are harsh to recall. I'm glad I listened.

I would caution that anyone head-over-heels in love with the Narnia books should avoid the tale The Problem of Susan. This is one of the most explicit tales, and while I loved even the darkest of the others in this book, and I understand some of the motive behind this tale, I wish it had been left out.

Beyond that, though, most of the tales are told from solid flesh and blood perspectives, have fascinating premises, and are satisfying bits and pieces of various worlds. There is plenty of humor of various kinds. Many of the stories turn reality inside out in interesting ways. Others are odd twists on classic short stories. Study in Emerald, for instance, is a parallel tale to the Study in Scarlett by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - which I had fortunately read recently, so each tale echoed in my mind. The poems need to be read aloud to appreciate them properly (as with most poetry).

The book begins with the lighter, sweeter tales, and then gets more meaty and serious, with the most potent (and difficult) stories later.

The novella at the end will have you rethinking your definition of "monsters." And, since it also plays games with who and what are fragile, and it revisits some characters from earlier tales, it's a fitting place to part from this interesting collection.


Sherry said...

I'm planning to read something by Gaiman soon, probably Stardust. I'm curious, though, does Gaiman's Susan story make the same tired old complaint about how Susan is treated so unfairly, and Lewis was so sexist, blah, blah, blah? If so, I'll definitely want to skip that one.

Cheryl Vanatti said...

I'll be checking this title out soon... somewhere in that neverending TBR pile - UGH!

But, I had to mention that I've read five of Gaiman's novels and LOVE them all. My favoite is "American Gods," but for a lighter fare I really enjoyed "Stardust." "Good Omens" requires great suspension of disbelief, but it's a hoot - The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are worth the read alone :-)
"Coraline" is kiddie horror/thriller and "Anansi Boys" is very similar to "American Gods."

IMHO :-)

Steve Emery said...

Thanks to you both for commenting.

Sherry - I'm not totally sure what point Gaiman is making in the Susan story... Usually I get the point, but this one just threw me. If you aren't easily offended (and you don't seem to be, as I read your blog) you might try it and see. Be prepared for some very un-Aslan-like behavior in the characters' dreams.

Tasses - I first encountered Gaiman in "Good Omens," lent by a friend, and I agree, the four horsemen (both sets) are worth the book all by themselves, though there is plenty more. Today my teens and I were trying to figure out what we thought was uniquely Gaiman about the book - as opposed to Pratchett. Hard to tell since both love send ups, both are about equally irreverent, and the book seems to sparkle about equally of both of them throughout.

By the way, the novella at the end of Fragile Things continues with the character Shadow, from American Gods. Another draw for you, if you liked that novel. It's now on my list...