fragile things

Short Fictions & Wonders

“Let me tell you a story. No, wait, one’s not enough. I’ll  begin again…”

Neil Gaiman is a genius and someone definitely worth dedicating even a little bit of time to. You might think you haven’t heard of him, but I assure you, you’ve probably brushed up against him at some point. He wrote the original books that inspired the amazing films Coraline and Stardust, he penned an episode of Doctor Who (called “The Doctor’s Wife”) and has a second episode coming up in the next series, and is responsible for such incredible novels as American Gods and Neverwhere.

He also appears to be unaware of the function of – or perhaps even the existence of – combs.

Anyway, Fragile Things is a stunning collection of short stories and poems from this master of the strange. You already knew that this was going to be a positive review, and that’s mostly because Gaiman can do very little wrong in my eyes. These “short fictions and wonders” are delightfully dark and twisty, and twisted, and so many of them seem to run like a Mobius strip, ending where they began and beginning where they ended. Everything in life is a circle and these stories are particularly good examples of that as situations repeat themselves again and again in wonderfully macarbe scenarios.

Gaiman’s use of language is spectacular and he is a man who can say a lot with very little, always able to make the reader understand what he means immediately. He is capable of writing in a variety of genres (these stories have various shifts along the lines of believability, although I think all of them contain the supernatural in one way or another) and every time he is completely gripping. If I let myself go on, I’m just going to crawl up inside him, so instead, I’m going to pick out some of my favourite stories from the collection and comment on those.

“A Study in Emerald”
I am not a Sherlock Holmes fan by any real stretch, that is, not of the original books. The BBC series is mighty fine, but I tried reading A Study in Scarlet and I couldn’t get on with it. In this version of events, Gaiman takes the basic plot of that novel and twists it into a darkly alternate United Kingdom where the the Lovecraftian Old Gods have taken over the country and our heroes are now working for the slimy and alien Queen Victoria. It uses many of the same tricks and even text of the original novel, but turns it on its head for a very surprisingly finale.

“Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire”
A mouthful of a title, for some very clever food for thought. Again, you aren’t entirely sure what’s going on as a writer struggles to pen his latest novel, aiming for it to be a realistic slice of life piece that will be remembered through the ages, but he keeps popping in jokes, dissolving bodies and a mention of “this night of all nights”. It’s only when a talking raven suggests that he try writing fantasy that things begin to pick up…

“Other People”
A sick and stunning look at what may be waiting for us in the afterlife, and a suggestion that physical torture is by far the preferred option between that or mental torture.

“The Problem of Susan”
Like the Sherlock Holmes tale, this one looks at The Chronicles of Narnia and tells us what happened to Susan after all the events of her young life. It seems that things were never the same again for her, but there’s still an old applewood wardrobe in her spare room. There”s a certain ambiguity over the whole thing, but only if you choose to put it there.

A poem that gives instructions on what to do if you find yourself inside a fairy tale. Nothing more, nothing less.

There’s also a genuine ghost story, a poem about fairies, how the story of Aladdin came to exist and even a short story hidden inside the introduction. The final story is one for the lovers of American Gods, set two years after the events of that novel and seeing Shadow now holed up in Scotland facing a very bizarre proposition.

Like everything Gaiman does, a masterpiece, from the king of the creepy.