REVIEW, £17.99. Order for £16.50 (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897
Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman
Strange snippets and magical moments from a tantalising talent
Wednesday 18 October 2006
Fragile Things is subtitled "Short fictions & wonders", which pretty much gives a flavour of this compilation. Neil Gaiman has from time to time written conventional short stories, often for particular slots in books or else online. "Goliath", included here, was commissioned as part of the online publicity campaign for the then-forthcoming movie The Matrix, and it's a lot better than the two sequels to that film. But he has also dashed off snippety little things to go with Tori Amos CDs, or concert tours, or as Christmas cards and (late) birthday presents for his daughters, which then get shared with the world.
Gaiman is sometimes like the schoolboy who, when set homework that involves writing a story or a poem, turns in a poem because it takes much less time and effort. I always picture the frozen smiles of gratitude on the faces of editors who ask him for "something for an anthology", and get a thin poem back by return. It's not that the several poems included here are not very good: they read aloud very well, but slip past like a snack. But the rare stories tend to be precious, as well as fragile. A busy all-round writer like Gaiman doesn't often get to sit down and hone his short fictions. When he does, they tend to be extraordinary, complicated, hilarious, melancholy and terrifying.
The stand-out stuff here includes "A Study in Emerald", a distinctive essay in a form of pulp pastiche that Gaiman acknowledges, in a worthwhile introduction, has been shaped by other writers: Philip José Farmer, Alan Moore, and - ahem - Kim Newman. It intermingles the worlds of Sherlock Holmes and Great Cthulhu, but turns the assumptions of Arthur Conan Doyle and HP Lovecraft inside-out.
"The Problem of Susan" is another literary footnote, to the Narnia books, in an affecting, half-regretful, chiding manner. "Bitter Grounds" and "Keepsakes and Treasures" are horror stories that feel like the beginnings of novels, but leave off at exactly the point where they should. As for "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" and "Closing Time", these are Twilight Zone-ish stories rooted in the lost worlds of the recent past, and snapshots of English lives recalled from another country.
And in "Sunbird" and "The Monarch of the Glen", Gaiman retells old stories in new ways that get to the heart of his project: the eternal persistence of the magical and the strange, in a world that isn't as disappointing as it seems.
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Pro-Russian rebel 'admits to shooting down plane'
- 2 Israel has discovered that it's no longer so easy to get away with murder in the age of social media
- 3 Israel-Gaza conflict: The myth of Hamas’s human shields
- 4 Amy Winehouse unpublished 2004 interview: ‘Ten years from now I’ll be 30, so I’ll maybe have one baby’
- 5 Dutch paedophile club to fight their ban at the European Court of Human Rights
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?
Hercules, review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson takes centre stage in preposterous film
Fight Club 2: Chuck Palahniuk sequel is a 'meta-fictional comment on the cultural response to the original'
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash: 'Nine Britons, 23 Americans and 80 children' feared dead after Boeing passenger jet is 'shot down' near Ukraine-Russia border
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia