Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Book review: Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

As mentioned before, I tend to read and/or watch things in clumps, like three Terry Pratchett books in a row or all of Gossip Girl S2 in a mad marathon. The current clump is Neil Gaiman. Man’s a genius, I am completely convinced of it. I took three of his volumes out of the library last week - a book of short stories, a YA novel and a graphic novel – and read the short stories first.

Fragile Things is comprised of thirty-one “short fictions and wonders,” some stories, some poems. As with all of Gaiman’s work that I have experienced, these pieces are each part horror and part fantasy, with a little whimsy thrown in for leavening. I think my favorite of the bunch was "The Monarch of the Glen," which takes place several years after American Gods and follows Shadow’s adventures in Scotland. In the introduction to Fragile Things Gaiman remarks that he “enjoy[s] the gulf between Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of Grendel’s mother in the Robert Zemeckis film [the script for which Gaiman co-wrote] and the version of the character that turns up here.” Some of the other stories are:

  • A Study in Emerald – an alt-universe in which both Sherlock Holmes and alien overlords coexist
  • Closing Time - a ghost story with a twisty ending that I had to re-read a couple of times
  • Bitter Grounds – of course there are zombies in New Orleans!
  • The Problem of Susan – in which Gaiman addresses what happened to Susan from the Narnia books
  • Goliath – originally written for the web site for The Matrix, and posted just before the film came out

I love short story collections (another of my admittedly none-too-highbrow favorites, Stephen King, does some of his best work in short stories) and read one of Gaiman’s YA short story volumes, M Is for Magic, at the end of last year. I’d forgotten this, however, and so was completely perplexed when some of the stories in Fragile Things seemed so familiar, and yet other stories didn’t. Three of the M is for Magic tales are also in Fragile Things: "October in the Chair" (a ghost story told by October), "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" (a science fiction-y piece) and "Sunbird" (about "a group of people who like to eat things").

Although none of these stories demonstrate anything startlingly new, Gaiman continues to charm and entertain and I have no reason to think that the next book in my queue, Coraline, will turn out any differently.

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