Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman

I’ve been hearing a lot about Neil Gaiman recently but haven’t been sure whether he writes the sort of thing that I would enjoy. This review of his book of ‘short fictions and wonders’ at Books Without Any Pictures had me wanting to know more and so I thought I would take the plunge and buy a copy. This is the first book that I have read for the Pay It Sideways Challenge.

The weird world of Neil Gaiman is not necessarily wonderful. It can be strange, creepy and amusing, but I can’t say that I found Fragile Things to be a wonderfully enjoyable read. The style is dark, whether the story is humorous and light hearted or more serious. I do like the idea of dark and magical stories, but couldn’t really settle down with this book.

There were two short stories I was particularly looking forward to reading, which both turned out to be completely different to how I had imagined them.

October In the Chair has all of the months of the year sitting around a camp-fire telling stories. I thought this was an ingenious idea and did enjoy the spooky story that October shared. It was interesting to see how Gaiman portrayed the months as people, my favourite being friendly October with an autumn coloured beard and a prim and proper September.

The Problem of Susan is another story that I was eager to read as I have always been unhappy with how C. S. Lewis dealt with the poor girl in The Last Battle. Although it was different to what I had expected (I have a feeling that Neil Gaiman doesn’t often write what you would expect), I did find the approach interesting and thought provoking. Not just about Susan being left behind, this is also a thoughtful insight into the life of an ageing woman.

A few other stories surprised me and I really appreciated Neil Gaiman’s skill as a storyteller. However, I felt indifferent to many and I would have quite happily skipped the majority of these short fictions. Here are a few that particularly stood out to me.

Closing Time, like October in the Chair is a story within a story and it sent shivers down my spine. In my opinion this is the scariest tale in the book, with a perfectly creepy setting. A group of boys trespass on to the grounds of a big, old house where a game of dare has some unsettling consequences. Gaiman builds up just the right amount of tension to make you want to read on, but terrify you in the process.

Locks is a poem that Gaiman wrote for and about his daughter. As he reads the famous tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to her, she joins in with the words and chants for more at the end – just like I did when I was a little girl. This poem conjures feelings of nostalgia, whether for your own childhood or the innocence of your now grown children. It is a loving and pensive poem that I will not easily forget.

Another poem named Instructions is a useful guide to surviving fairy tales. I read the Grimm’s Fairy Tales a few months ago and found this an amusing read.

The short story Sunbird is about a group of fine diners who believe they have tried every dish worth tasting. They travel across the world to hunt and eat the rare and delicious Sunbird – a journey which ends disastrously for most of them. This is a brilliant example of Neil Gaiman’s wacky imagination with a range of very odd characters and a silly but fun storyline.

The final story in this collection is a lot longer and more serious than the others. The Monarch of the Glenn carries on from Gaiman’s novel American Gods. Set in a cold and lonely area of Scotland, the atmosphere is likewise cold and unsettling. I am not very knowledgeable about legends but found the references to Beowulf intriguing.

There are lots of other odd goings on and bizarre characters in Fragile Things, including; cannibalism, horrible Valentine’s Day presents, a back-to-front Sherlock Holmes mystery and some nasty gangster-like characters. I am glad that I took the time to read this book even if it wasn’t all my sort of thing. Although I did find a few of the stories very compelling, I don’t know if I could read a full novel in a similar style. I think I will probably give Neil Gaiman another try at some point in the future. Does anyone have any recommendations? I have no idea where to start!

If you are a fan of Gaiman, you will probably love Fragile Things. You can buy the book by clicking the picture below.

17 thoughts on “Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman

  1. Others have said it but I’ll throw my two cents in in agreement–Stardust and Graveyard Book are really good starts, the one being more of a fairy tale and the other similar but with gothic story elements. Both (and Coraline too) are great coming of age stories and are very rewarding reads. My favorite Gaiman novel is Neverwhere and I don’t have any qualms recommending it either. It is quite the adventure and full of interesting characters.

    American Gods is a really well crafted novel, but if some of Fragile Things weren’t your cup of tea I would read AG yet. There is some great story in there, but there is a lot of dark adult filler as well.

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    • Thank you very much for the comment! It’s looking like the most popular book of Gaiman’s to start on is Stardust, so I think that’s probably the first I’ll try. But I will also look into The Graveyard Book and Neverwhere because I’ve been hearing good things about them too!

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  2. As a Neil Gaiman fan, I understand your concerns about this particular collection, since they’re the same issues I had with it. I find this quite odd, because I absolutely adored his other short story collection Smoke and Mirrors, which felt (to me, at least) more unified than this one.

    I do believe that Monarch of the Glen was the best of the lot, but I think this is because it’s linked to American Gods, and I loved American Gods to pieces.

    As for starting points with his writing, I think Stardust, Coraline or The Graveyard Book are the best places to start, Stardust more so, in my opinion. Stardust is Gaiman’s fantasy writing at it’s finest, and is an easy, gentle slide into his prose work. After that, Smoke and Mirrors might be best. The style of the stories in Smoke and Mirrors will prep you for what I think is his best prose work, the novel American Gods. After that there is, of course, the Sandman graphic novels, which made him famous in the first place, but it is not really necessary to read Sandman if you’re not much into comics :).

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    • Thank you so much for the advice! You’ve made me feel better about not enjoying Fragile Things as much as I had hoped. I think I’ll start with Stardust because I did enjoy the film. I definitely feel more encouraged to try more of his work now!

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  3. One of the things that I’ve noticed about short story collections in general is that some of the stories tend to work for me and others don’t. That was especially true with this collection; the stories that I liked, I really loved, and others just weren’t that memorable. I do need to read more Gaiman; I saw the movie Coraline earlier this week and now I want to read the book and compare. 😀

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    • Thanks! 🙂 I’ll definitely check out your blog, thank you for the link.

      I think Neil Gaiman must be so popular for a reason, so I will try something else, just not sure where to start! (Maybe not will Coraline though! Thanks for the tip.)

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