Review of Fragile Things
August 9, 2018
Title: Fragile Things
Author: Neil Gaiman
Page Count: 438
Genre: Short Fiction
From the author American Gods, now a major TV series for Amazon Prime Video, Fragile Things shows one of the world’s most gifted storytellers at the height of his powers.
Let me tell you stories of the months of the year, of ghosts and heartbreak, of dread and desire. Or after-hours drinking and unanswered phones, of good deeds and bad days, of trusting wolves and how to talk to girls at parties.
There are stories within stories, whispered in the quiet of the night, shouted above the roar of the day, and played out between lovers and enemies, strangers and friends. But all, all are fragile things made of just 26 letters arranged and rearranged to form tales and imaginings which will dazzle your senses, haunt your imagination and move you to the very depths of your soul.
Fragile Things is an eclectic collection of 31 short stories and poems, plucked from the weird and wonderful mind of Neil Gaiman. As with any compilation – whether literary or musical – the theme, tone and quality of each piece can often vary so widely it’s unlikely to appeal to all tastes. There will inevitably be few that hit that mark and others that fall flat.
In this instance, the majority of stories and poems were beautifully crafted, original, unpredictable and compelling to read, and included including some clever works of metafiction – stories within stories – inspired by likes of Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft and C.S. Lewis.
I’ve read and loved many of Neil’s longer fiction. Not only is he an exceptional writer, he has this uncanny ability to seamlessly weave elements from various genres such a horror, fantasy, sci-fi and noir fiction, whilst also drawing upon his immense knowledge of mythology, art and music to conjur stories that speak to the reader on many different emotional and intellectual levels. In my eyes that makes him a story magician. His unpretentious style of writing draws you in like a purring cat, playful one second, drawing blood with its claws on the next.
In Fragile Things, some of the stories are whimsical, satirical and thought-provoking, while others are strange, dark and macabre, at times bordering on downright disturbing. Which makes it difficult to rate this book as a whole. My top five hits (each of which I would have given 5 stars) were:
- A Study in Emerald
- October in the Chair
- Monarch of the Glen
Aside from The Fairy Reel– which had a lovely lyrical quality to it when read aloud – I felt the other poems were a bit disjointed and lacklustre compared to the short stories, some of which resonated with me more than others. I particularly disliked Keepsakes and Treasures. Mr Alice, who appears in the novella Monarch of the Glen, makes my skin crawl.
I can understand why Neil chose to address The Problem with Susan as I’ve always felt a similar sense of injustice that Lewis denied her the chance to come back to Narnia with the rest of the Pevensie family for The Last Battle simply because she’d discovered lipstick and sex. I’m not easily offended or particularly religious – in fact by Lewis’s standards I’ve zero forking chance of getting into ‘The Good Place’ – but what I did have a problem with was the distasteful way he chose to illustrate this moral hypocrisy. The story had merit, I just wish he could have executed it in a less graphic way, although maybe that was the point. The Narnia books, in spite of their flaws, are special to me, and I therefore found the pornographic scene between Aslan and the White Witch a step too far. Not to mention that gross image is now forever stuck in my head.
As Meatloaf once sang, ‘I would do anything for love. But I won’t do that! No I won’t do that.’
Hence the 3.5* rating. Sorry Neil, I love you, but … don’t do that!