on 25 November 2006
Gaiman is a writer of rich and vivid imagination. This collection of short stories, short fiction and poems demonstrate his talent on every page. Hovering between reality and fantasy he has created a distinctive world peopled with ordinary people, young and old, who meet up with ghosts, zombies and other creatures. With great skill and ease Gaiman creates credible characters and compelling scenarios.
Some "fragile things" describe dreams, others move effortlessly from actuality to visions of otherworldliness often taking the reader by surprise. Most of the stories in this collection have a serious, some a macabre, side to them. At the same time, humour and irony are natural companions. There is the young boy, ignored by his family and peers, who finally meets a friend and companion as he runs away to start a new life. A Harlequin character reinvents himself with every real life Valentine heart he sends to an object of his desire. Storytelling is a theme for many of the characters in the collection. In "October in the Chair" we listen in as every month competes for the best story that the others haven't heard before. Many of the stories were inspired by other writers and friends and fiction pieces were written for their magazines or anthologies.
While each of the stories has been published previously, it is a treat to have them collected in one volume. Every piece stands by itself, yet, when read contiguously each adds elements to a whole creating for the reader a complex tapestry of imaginary lives. Anybody who has read other Gaiman books will welcome his volume. For newcomers, Fragile Things is a great introduction to his work. [Friederike Knabe]
Of the collection, I'd already read How To Speak To Girls At Parties and A Study In Emerald before and of the two, I think that A Study In Emerald is the stronger story. For those who don't know, A Study In Emerald is a hybrid of the Sherlock Holmes stories and Locecraft's Call of Cthulu, set in an alternative world where the Old Ones rule over man and one of their number has been murdered. Gaiman nails the tone and the narrative voice and the story itself is fascinating. How To Speak To Girls At Parties, by contrast, reads like fluff - it's amusing but the ending is weak.
With those stories that were new to me, I particularly enjoyed The Problem Of Susan, which looks at what happened to the fourth Pevensie sibling after her brothers and sister were permanently taken to Narnia. Gaiman makes Narnia a much darker place and subverts the antagonism between Aslan and the White Witch and whilst the reporter is a little forced at times, Susan herself is very believable. Harlequin Valentine is an entertaining take on the relationship between Harlequin and Columbine, with a neat twist at the end that makes you feel sorry for the trickster. Sunbird, a story that Gaiman wrote as a present for his daughter, Holly, is an amusing look at an epicuran society in their search for the ultimate gastronomic experience. Gaiman uses a stylised narrative that should jar, but doesn't and again, it has a very neat ending.
I didn't particularly enjoy Diseasemaker's Croup (the style's fine and I can see what he's doing with it, but it just didn't grab me) or Pages From A Journal Found In A Shoebox In A Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Louisville, Kentucky (which is too much of a stream of consciousness story that again, didn't grab me). I also felt that October In The Chair, a story that Gaiman says in his introduction was originally intended to be part of another collection, felt unfulfilling and whilst that's partly to do with the decidely open ending, it's also because you feel that there's a backstory there that needs to be developed further.
The collection finishes with a novella, a sort of follow-on to Gaiman's excellent novel, American Gods, in which Shadow has travelled to a remote part of Scotland, where he is invited to work as a bodyguard to an unusual party for one weekend. Whilst I think that the central hook of the story is a little contrived, Gaiman weaves in Norse legend with contemporary life in a way that carries the reader along nicely and his portrayal of Grendel is quite heartbreaking. It also made me want to see a full length sequel to American Gods as I think that Shadow is a fascinating and troubled character and one with more tales to tell.
on 17 July 2008
This might be an unusual review because this is the first Gaiman book I've read, bought it to see if all the fuss was justified, so I came with no preconceptions of what a Neil Gaiman book should be like. I'll certainly be looking for more of this.
What you get is a collection of stories and a handful of poems, mostly previously published in themed anthologies, on websites or musician's tour booklets, with a couple specifically dedicated (to Ray Bradbury and Gaiman's daughter). So the subject matter and tone is tremendously varied.
Gaiman is a master storyteller, writes beautifully, and what shines through from this anthology is his deep love of storytelling in all its forms, from fairy tales to the Arabian Nights, the Comedia dell'arte and Beowulf.
Is it any good ? The best stuff here is magnificent. "October in the Chair" will feel like settling into an old armchair for Bradbury fans, "A Study in Emerald" crosses Sherlock Holmes with Lovecraft in a way which is genuinely fresh and surprising, "Harlequin Valentine" (my favourite) traces Harlequin and Columbine's on-off romance in small-town America, while "The Monarch of the Glen" reworks an old story with subtlety and pathos. And "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire" is a very funny send-up of gothic horror.
So,I'll certainly be looking out for more of this !
on 31 May 2015
A selection of short musings, snippets and dark imaginings. I wouldn't really call them stories, because they are a rag tag bunch of ideas, not fully plotted or executed. I found them interesting, but strangely unsatisfying, and a bit annoying!
If you are a big fan of Neil Gaiman's work you'll enjoy getting a glimpse into how his mind works, but otherwise, I'd advise the more general reader to go for one of his full length books, where the characters are well drawn, and which I found much more satisfying.
on 9 January 2013
I found this disparate collection disappointingly weak. Narrative structure dissolves into purple prose, and women are uniformly portrayed as temptresses and unpleasant destroyers of men.
Worst, is the Narnia ' Problem of Susan' story which involves a dream sequence of laughable bad porn content. Gaiman gets a myth, turns it this way or that way, deconstructs it and reassembles it as a satire, destroying any bond of romance or sacredness which the reader might have had toward the initial theme. Narnia with added bestiality? Oooh Vicar, C.S. must be rolling in his grave.
This is an arch, self-knowing kind of trick, and Gaiman is no true magician inasmuch as he seems not to believe in magic at all, only in a conjuror's tricks.
This is somewhat sad for the reader as we vainly search for a bit of truly believed-in faery, a hint of another higher level, but all we receive are knowing winks and an arch melding of Hunter S. Thompson and Pratchett without the muscularity of either's style.
It is all rather drab as poor Harlequin has his heart eaten by a mortician's assistant we are reminded fully of what man-eating bitches fantasy women are, and how men are prey to their fancies and lusts. Sex is usually pretty perverse and unerotic, as though Gaiman has decided that it has to be depicted as slightly shocking and emotionless, like a bad magick.
I am not even sure that Gaiman means to be stereotypically sexist, he just doesn't understand this is not the only angle you can take with demonesses, vampires, goddesses and fairyfolk.
Search if you like for a grain of true magic, and there are great ideas dotted about, you will not find a true believer in the arcane, just a rather straightforward twisting of our expectations and preconceptions.
Is this a fair trick to play? Gaiman is pretty much universally acclaimed, but I find him a little aloof and disconnected from the lover of myth and legend I think the trouble is a dichotomy between his placement as a fantasy writer ( which he surely is) and his ultimate disbelief in his subject as anything other than a series of leitmotifs.
If you create a fantasy world in which structure and character can do anything you command, the only anarchy may be to detach yourself from your reader and like the oozalumfaloozalum bird, fly up your own nether regions into a pseudo-literary stratosphere of your own making.
It is not even crazy enough to make it rock, language is normalised and unexperimental.
This book is neither truly original, or truly piecemeal, it contains excellent ideas which need fleshing out, editing and punching into shape.Neither fish nor fowl, this book is not quite suitable for your inner maiden Aunt and not quite mad enough for your secret self- the eccentric Uncle.
on 16 July 2016
I've thoroughly enjoyed some of Neil Gaiman's books which led me to Fragile Things. Sadly I couldn't have enjoyed this less - I found myself wanting to put it down for good after each and every page - I forced myself to keep reading hoping it was going to improve but it only got worse for me - just random, pointless nonsense (sorry - but true for me). It does have lot's of good reviews and I can't understand why - Emperor's New Clothes syndrome? The author mentioned that some of these stories were boxed in the loft for years - some things deserve to stay hidden away...
on 21 January 2013
I can't say much more than other reviewers have, except that this book is full of wonderful and astounding stories. I read the book and found I enjoyed every story in its own way - they're witty, imaginative and different. But what else can be expected of Mr Gaiman.
I really loved Gaiman's previous collection of short stories in "Smoke and Mirrors", but this was a horrible dissapointment in comparison. I found many stories felt tedious and slow, with little reward for the effort. Most had a mildly interesting point or idea to them, but none felt particularly well executed. I am glad this is not my first and only experience of Gaiman's writing, or else I would never wish to read anything from him again. Gaiman is capable of much better work - just not here. Check out Smoke and Mirrors if you haven't already done so - it is a much better reflection of the talent and imagination that Gaiman wields.
on 10 September 2011
Neil Gaiman is, in my opinion, one of the most consistently good writers of this generation. He is a fantastic novelist as well as an exceedingly good short storyteller - many authors can only do one or the other. Short stories are, in some ways, things authors to do practice their writing, free to experiment. Most of Neil's stories have an interesting background behind them and the book contains a preface with a list and explanation of each item.
Much of Neil Gaiman's writing is his take on popular literature and mythology. 'A Study in Emerald' tackles Sherlock Holmes, the now very famous American Gods and the short novella in this book looks at Norse mythology and there's even a story about Narnia, but not like you know it. There are some downright weird stories here, some obviously experimental, some that you probably aren't going to understand, but all are compulsively readable. I won't go into detail for fear of spoiling the many twists and turns.
My favourites were:
Good Boys Deserve Favours
A Study in Emerald (won a Hugo award and worth the price of the book)
Monarch of the Glen (fans of American Gods should read this)
You probably won't like every story in here, that's fine: It's an anthology, you're allowed to. Think of this not as a book, but as an album, some of the songs you hate, some you like, and all of them raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
on 25 September 2007
I'm a big fan of Neil Gaiman's books so I had high expectations of another short story collection but this book left me completely cold. I particularly loved Smoke and Mirrors. Best part of a year after reading it so many of the stories still stick in my head: the wedding present, the cat, the playboy girl, the angels, snow white, the hollywood hotel, the troll and the genius 100 word santa story in particular. It is two weeks since I finished Fragile Things and I'm struggling to remember a distinct story out of it. Only the Shadow novella stands out, and then only because of its complete failure to repeat the great trick from American Gods of making the absurd believable.
Don't get me wrong, it's still Neil Gaiman so it is well written with some great lines and imagination and there are a lot of worse ways of passing a few hours but I couldn't find any of the fire and bite and connection I got from Smoke and Mirrors. The stories seemed much more similar to each other and the themes of disappearances and the ghosts/gods/monsters among us never seemed to let up to give some variety or surprise at the next one.