Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman

I first discovered Gaiman’s work through the excellent British TV series Neverwhere. It’s a compelling fantasy about an ordinary fellow, drawn into a magical world under London's streets. This nightmarish world is populated by, among others, a minotaur, an angel, energy-draining Goths, street people and a damsel in distress. Half of the intrigue for viewers is working out the character’s various agendas and the logic of the magical forces driving them.

Enjoying Neverwhere lead me to read Gaiman’s 2001 novel, American Gods, which won the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, SFX, and Locus awards. American Gods is a fantasy novel set in contemporary America, which remains unaware of the legendary gods converging there. The hero, Shadow, is a stranger to his own identity. He struggles to untangle himself from a web of supernatural forces, often one step behind the reader. Very entertaining.

This morning I finished reading Neil Gaiman’s upcoming collection of short stories: Fragile Things. It has been an up-and-down ride. Gaiman has a sweeping imagination which revels in the creepy and supernatural. Gaiman often gives a traditional fantasy character, such as a ghost, alien, demon, murderer or god, a modern spin. I was impressed by the sheer scope of styles: humour, poetry, horror, ghost tale, Sherlock Holmes mystery, fable, tall tale, recursive story. Some pieces were originally written for illustration.

There were moments when I felt Gaiman’s images sully my imagination. There is one viewpoint character, for example, who mentions a sexual preference for pre-pubescent girls. It was a shock to listen in on his thoughts, to find myself on intimate terms with evil. What an effective, but nasty, narrative technique.

In terms of sexual content, this collection is definitely for adults. It’s not for the homophobic or the squimish either, although the themes are not primarily sexual. An eclectic mix, these stories are mostly previously published and were never planned to form a cohesive whole. The poems, as Gaiman explains on his website, were thrown in free of charge.

Will you like this book? It’s a mix of virtuoso performances and odd experiments by an exceptional author. I think writers will find it a fascinating study in technique. I particularly enjoyed Gaiman’s introductory notes. How intriguing to hear about the drafts he wrote and rewrote to suit editors. He explains ways in which stories came about because of random incidents or specific editorial requests and honestly chronicles his creative triumphs and difficulties along the way.

This collection is not for the literary purist -- It’s too much fun for that. Neil Gaiman covers a wide swath of memorable stories, frightening characters and fantastic worlds.

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