Sunday, 10 March 2013

Fragile Things - Book Review

Neil Gaiman’s second collection of short fiction, a dazzling book of short stories from one of modern fiction's greatest and most imaginative writers. These stories will dazzle your senses, haunt your imagination and move you to the very depths of your soul. This extraordinary book reveals one of the world's most gifted storytellers at the height of his powers. (From Amazon UK. Click here for Fragile Things on Goodreads.)

If you’re looking for somewhere to start with short stories, or if you already love short stories and are searching for something new to read, this is a fantastic choice. It’s fair to say that Neil Gaiman is an incredibly popular author, but I’ve actually found his longer books a bit hit-and-miss for me. Some are wonderful (The Graveyard Book is a must read), while others I wasn’t so keen on. Neil Gaiman’s shorts, however, I love. I should clarify... I love his short stories, though I’m sure he has very nice summer wear. I’m betting they’re knee-length and black, featuring a pattern of whimsical dancing skeletons in top-hats. Which, oddly, is not that far off being a description of his short stories as well.

There are all kinds of stories and poems in Fragile Things, ranging in atmosphere and subject matter. Identity, love and loss, storytelling, and, as you might expect, fragility, are all themes running through the collection. There are stories and poems about magic, ghosts, monsters, aliens, vampires, curses, zombies, and fairies, to name only a few, and many of these take turns and approaches that you might not expect. Most of the stories and poems in the book can also be read on several levels; they are very rarely just about what is literally happening on the page. They are all very clever, and some demand more than one reading. For fans of American Gods, there is also a longer story featuring Shadow, the main character of that novel.

Most of the content leans towards dark fantasy or horror, though there is nothing that I found really gruesome or too frightening. Instead, many of the stories are creepy or enchanting, sometimes both, in a way that lingers long after the telling has finished. All of them have that signature Gaiman subtlety in dealing with magic; the supernatural and the fantastical are shown to exist alongside our modern world, sometimes in the most mundane places, and in several of the stories the supernatural is also used as a metaphor for aspects of the human condition. This is particularly the case with the zombie story ‘Bitter Grounds’, which was one of my favourites in the collection. If the book carries one message throughout all the stories and poems, it is of the power and importance of telling stories, how stories can affect people, and how creating them and passing them down is a large part of what makes us human.

Stories and poems that really stood out for me included ‘October in the Chair’, ‘Closing Time’, ‘Bitter Grounds’, ‘Locks’, ‘The Problem of Susan’, ‘How to Talk to Girls at Parties’ and ‘Sunbird’. ‘A Study in Emerald’ is also a great concept for a story, but I wish that it had been longer and developed further. This also goes for a few other stories, and there were one or two that I found a bit dull. But really, most of the pieces in this collection are very good, and all worth reading, and because they are so open to interpretation in different ways, I think every reader’s favourites are likely to be different.

Fragile Things is an extremely strong collection that can be enjoyed by both new readers and long-standing fans of Neil Gaiman’s work.

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