Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cthulhu and Sherlock and Shadow; Oh My!: A Review of Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things

Title: Fragile Things
Author: Neil Gaiman
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Harper (2006)
Pages: 363
How I Came By This Book: I picked this up at Barnes and Noble a few months ago in my continued attempt to own and read everything ever written by this man.
Challenges: Read Your Own Books Challenge; GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: A mysterious circus terrifies an audience for one extraordinary performance before disappearing into the night. Two teenage boys crash a party and meet the girls of their dreams--and nightmares. In a Hugo Award-winning story, a great detective must solve a most unsettling royal murder in a strangely altered Victorian England.

These marvelous creations and more showcase the unparalleled invention and storytelling brilliance--and the terrifyingly dark and entertaining wit--of the incomparable Neil Gaiman. By turns delightful, disturbing, and diverting, Fragile Things is a gift of literary enchantment from one of the the most original writers of our time.

Review: Gaiman's first book of short stories, Smoke and Mirrors, got me interested in the genre in a way I had never been before. While Fragile Things is an impressive batch of tales, I found that I didn't like it quite as much as I did the other.

Obviously these stories are well-written, funny, dark, terrifying, and wonderful all at the same time. Even when I'm not fully impressed with Gaiman (see The Graveyard Book), I still cannot deny that he is a) one of the greatest living writers and b) my favorite contemporary author. These stories are everything that I've come to expect from him and, as an American Gods lover, I appreciated the added bonus of a novella featuring Shadow, the main character from Gaiman's novel of gods and men. Many of these stories were enjoyable, but I felt they lacked a certain something that the stories in Smoke and Mirrors had...I just can't put my finger on what it is. We'll just call it that je ne sais quoi (I don't know what).

Some of my favorite stories from this collection include the aforementioned novella ("Monarch of the Glen"), the brilliant Sherlock Holmes/Cthulhu mash-up ("A Study in Emerald"), the Gothic satire "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire" (which also has the best title ever), and the Matrix-inspired "Goliath." Two of Gaiman's best poems are also featured in Fragile Things: "Instructions" and "The Day the Saucers Came."

Here's a video of Gaiman himself reading "Instructions:"

And the best animated version of "The Day the Saucers Came:"

Whereas all of the stories in Smoke and Mirrors kept me interested, there were several stories here that got my mind wandering a bit. I'm going to be fair here and remind everyone that this was the second book that I read during the read-a-thon this past weekend so this could have had something to do with it...although I doubt it. Nothing really stood out to me, like "We Can Get Them for You Wholesale" or "Murder Mysteries" did in Smoke and Mirrors.  "Forbidden Brides" comes close but I didn't fully enjoy it until I had reached the end of it and realized that the whole idea behind the story was that what was going on the whole time was normal. (To understand what I mean, you'll have to read the story. When you get to the last few pages the whole thing becomes a LOT funnier than it originally seems.)

I even found the American Gods novella to be a bit lacking. I loved revisiting Shadow and I love that the story took place in Scotland, but I'm not a huge fan of Smith or Mr. Alice, so their inclusion in that story sort of threw it for me. I also felt that Shadow wasn't quite the same as he had been at the end of American Gods, that the character had lost something. It was a great story, it just didn't fully do it for me.

All in all, this was a good book, especially the poems, which Gaiman has said some people didn't like in either book. I'm not a fan of poetry, but I love the way that Gaiman plays with words, rhythm, rhyme, and different poetry styles. These are poems that I could read over and over and not get sick of. I will say that Smoke and Mirrors is superior in terms of its short stories, but I would read Fragile Things again.

I'm giving Smoke and Mirrors 4 out of 5 Gabriels.



  1. As always, interesting to read your thoughts. Admittedly, I don't revisit this particular book, although I have re-read Neverwhere and Anansi Boys several times. It's nice to have some short fiction and poems, though, for those times when you need a quick "Neil fix."

  2. I have plans to reread Neverwhere sometime soon. I don't own Anansi Boys, but I've read it and I loved it. I've always been interested in the Anansi stories ever since I first heard them in third grade.