Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors; and short stories, which are great for summertime reading.  However, I do find them a little challenging to review, since I don't want to go into too much detail because I don't want any spoilers, yet I can't really explain the plot and characters as I would with a novel.  But here goes.

First, I must disclose that I'm not a huge fantasy/science fiction fan.  Maybe I am just lazy, but I have little patience for entire new worlds with an entirely new vocabulary -- I have enough trouble keeping multiple characters straight in a murder mystery, let alone having to learn new definitions of magical creatures/aliens/worlds/powers/locations, etc.  (This is why I prefer low fantasy, which are stories in which regular human characters are somehow placed in fantasy settings or situations.  See, I did learn something in my children's lit classes!).

This stories in this anthology have a great mix of styles.  I'd categorize them all as fantasy, generally, but tWe've got some horror, some sci-fi, and includes some retellings of classic myths and stories, recurring characters, and a great neo-Victorian mashup.  It starts out with a bang -- the first story, A Study in Emerald, is a great twist on Sherlock Holmes (the title had to be a giveaway, didn't it?).  I don't want to give too many details for fear of spoilers.  This book was a delight to me because it had so many surprises.

I also love how Gaiman interweaves some of his characters and themes from other works.  Shadow from American Gods (which begat Anansi Boys, one of my all-time favorite novels) makes an appearance in Monarch of the Glen, the final story; that story also includes Mr. Alice, a character in an earlier work in the collection.  The October in the Chair includes a story-within-a-story, and one of the characters reminded me strongly of Bod from The Graveyard Book (which is expanded from a story in M is for Magic).  I love watching how Gaiman's themes and characters have evolved.

Without giving a complete synopsis of every story, I'll just name a few of my favorites:  besides A Study in Emerald, my favorites included The Problem of Susan; Sunbird (about a group of gourmets who are on a quest for the rarest foods); and October in the Chair.  Some of them are really creepy and disturbing, like the story within the story of October. Two of the other creepy ones that have really stuck with me are Closing Time and Feeders and Eaters.

This collection includes 23 stories and 8 poems, but I have to admit I really only skimmed the poems.  Sadly, I'm just not a poetry fan.  They're mostly free verse, and I should really just get over myself and reread them and pretend they're just short stories printed oddly.

Other than the Sandman graphic novels, I think I've now read nearly everything by Gaiman.  His short stories are some of my favorites (for an alternate vision of Snow White, I highly recommend Snow, Glass, Apples from another of his short story collections, Smoke and Mirrors.  But please note that it is NOT for children!)  It never ceases to amaze me how Gaiman can successfully write brilliant novels, short stories, graphic novels, and great works for children, including juvenile novels and picture books.  I also like that Gaiman recognizes some of his best works are enjoyable to everyone -- several of his short stories, in this volume and in Smoke and Mirrors, make appearances in his juvenile-marketed story collection, M is for Magic.  Maybe the publisher just wanted a longer book, so they were filling with previously published materials; I prefer to think that they're just great stories and can be appreciated by all ages.

I read this volume in the traditional book form, but apparently it's also available in audio, narrated by Mr. Gaiman himself.  I've never listened to his narration but I've heard it's well worth it.  I may check this out from my library and listen to my favorites all over again, so I can hear the author's reading.  How cool is that?

3 comments:

  1. I am with you on needing to have a fair bit of realism with my fantasy - alternative universes etc don't generally gel with me!

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  2. I've still only read 4 books by Gaiman, but i admit I probably won't get to a short story collection any time soon. I did love Snow Glass Apple, but I can't see myself trying to read 30 of them all at once, you know?

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  3. Hannah -- I sometimes wonder if I'm just too impatient for alternate worlds. And some of the made-up words seem so ridiculous sometimes. It always seems like there are all those unnecessary apostrophes, like The Guardians of Ga'Hoole.

    Amanda -- I rarely read a short story collection at one sitting, unless I'm on an airplane or stuck somewhere waiting. That's probably why I have so many unfinished story collections on my shelves. I have so many great intentions, but I get distracted with full-length novels.

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