#22 “Fragile Things” by Neil Gaiman – Part Two

  1. Goose – Dawn O’Porter
  2. Murder in Mississippi – John Safran
  3. Elianne – Judy Nunn
  4. Divergent – Veronica Roth
  5. Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  6. Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  7. The Messenger – Markus Zusak
  8. Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman
  9. The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons
  10. NOS4R2 – Joe Hill
  11. Hades – Candice Fox
  12. Last Night at Chateau Marmont – Lauren Weisberger
  13. Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher
  14. The Maze Runner – James Dashner
  15. The Scorch Trials – James Dashner
  16. The Death Cure – James Dashner
  17. A Long Way Down – Nick Hornby

I really want to just read this book all in one go and then write a review, because the stories are so good. But that wouldn’t be fair. A lot of the stories in this anthology won Mr. Gaiman a swag of literary awards. So how can I just gloss over these writerly gems? I can’t. So here comes Part Two:

Closing Time
This story felt exactly like its title. A group of four men sitting around a table, drinking whisky at the end of a night in one of London’s old dive bars. You know that feeling you get when you and your friends are having such a good conversation in a pub or bar or whatever that you don’t notice that the place has emptied around you? Gaiman captures that feeling so well, even in the midst of the anecdote being retold by the nameless narrator. I could hear the chink of tumblers on wood, and smell that old alcohol smell as we were told of the creepy little cubby house in that deserted glade.
There’s a twist at the end that you can kind of see coming if you’re paying attention. But that’s not the point. The point is that Gaiman can simultaneously remind you of where the cubby house story is being told and make the setting of the cubby house story feel so vivid that you can feel the impish door knocker in your own hand.
As George R.R. Martin says, on the back of this book: “There’s no one quite like Neil Gaiman”.

Going Wodwo
“A ‘wodwo’, or ‘wodwose’, was a wild man of the woods.”
I don’t think I read poetry the right way. I read it like I read prose. But I don’t read for story or characters or any of that other stuff, I read it for the impression I get. So I couldn’t really tell you what this poem means  or which techniques were used and why. But I can tell you that when I finished that final line:

“And feel the silence blossom on my tongue
like language.”

I realised that the poem had evoked that feeling everyone in “civilised” society must get sometimes. Or at least I do. That feeling of wanting to abandon your little slice of society, and all of its rules, and just disappear into the countryside. I guess in my case, that would be disappearing into the bush.

Bitter Grounds
This one was a little different. It was a little longer and a little less magical. But this is a good thing. If all of the stories in here had magic in them, then we’d lose a little interest, even if it is Neil Gaiman. What I loved most about this story was how it opened with a mundane scene. A man, sick of life, up and leaves that life. He drives and drives and ends up in New Orleans.
Magic is mentioned, but never fully realised. We hear about zombie girls and zombie powder, and men disappearing and partially corporeal women. But this was awesome. It was like Gaiman was teasing us with a bit of fantasy, as if trying to inject magic into reality very subtly.
Something I have noticed is that the majority of Gaiman’s protagonists don’t have names. It’s a bit of a running theme, really. Maybe the protagonists don’t really know themselves? Or they get lost in the magic that surrounds them? I don’t know, but it’s one of those repetitious things that actually works.

Other People
To me, this story embodies everything thst I was taught about short-story writing. In my undergraduate degree we always got told that short stories are a “slice of life”. This story could have easily been an entire novel, with Gaiman going through the protagonist’s life before he ended up in Hell, but he didn’t. Instead we find our, again nameless, protagonist, in a room filled with torturous devices, and we find out just what happens when you screw over those you love in your life. We get a flashes of the kind of person this guy was and that’s all we need. We all know what kind of person would end up in Hell, so we infer a lot from our assumed knowledge. Gaiman plays with that and gives us just enough info to keep us grounded but not so much as to become tedious.
Gaiman is also master of The Twist. The lovely little twist at the end was amazing. But I wonder what would happen afterwards. That was the only question I was left with. But maybe that’s the point, when talking about the afterlife. No one really knows and so Gaiman leaves us with questions.

Keepsakes and Treasures
This one was weird. And when you say that about a Gaiman story, you can bet I mean really, REALLY weird. The protagonist, from what I can gather, is a psychopath. He didn’t have the best upbringing and ends up going on a few killing sprees before ending up as a “troubleshooter” for one of the richest men in the world. It was almost cinematic, this story. Very visual. You’re following the guy around and you kind of feel like you’re there beside him in the less reputable areas of London. Even, unfortunately, when the protagonist confesses to a colleague of his boss’ that he likes little girls. I felt a shudder that I haven’t felt since I read Lolita, reading that.
There was a little mythology in this one, but it didn’t really feel mythical. It felt dingy and dirty, like the atmosphere of the book. Like, anything can be bought if one has enough money. And this is exactly what happens. But what is bought, while supposed to be the most beautiful thing in a generation, feels sullied by the fact that the purchasing happened in a rundown shack filled with ugly old crones.
It takes a special kind of talent to make the mythical mundane. Gaiman definitely has that talent.

Good Boys Deserve Favours
How is it that Gaiman can, in a book full of magic and myths, make a story about a boy not practicing the double bass in his very non-magical school, seem just as extraordinary as the other stories?

Strange Little Girls
This short story is actually a smaller collection of smaller fictions: flash fiction. Apparently, each story is about a different woman to coincide with the different personas of each of the songs on Tori Amos’ album Strange Little Girls. I read it too quickly and found myself thinking of each persona as a different facet of the same woman. It may not be what Gaiman intended, but I think that reading all of the stories as one woman speaks to the complexity of human nature. Even if that’s pretty much not even close to what Gaiman meant in writing the mini stories.

Harlequin Valentine
The only knowledge I have of Harlequin from commedia dell’arte is from Kylie Fornasier’s MasqueradeApparently he was one of the characters in a play that was popular at the time in which the  book was set. A lot of people chose to dress as Harlequin for Carnivale, back in the day. According to Fornasier, anyway.
So that’s all I know about Harlequin. So I don’t know whether nailing a human heart to a girl’s door as a Valentine’s Day card would befit the character of Harlequin, but I’m going to guess that Gaiman totally nailed it because, well, he’s Gaiman.
Harlequin seems like a semi-corporeal trickster with an incredibly dark heart. But, I’ve got to say, his Valentine wasn’t too lighthearted either.
I’m not sure what to make of this story, besides the fact that it was beautifully written. I don’t know what the point was or why Harlequin was wandering around in the 21st century. But I was definitely entertained. And I guess, that’s the point.

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
This entry was posted in Extorting Bibliophilia, My Fangirl Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to #22 “Fragile Things” by Neil Gaiman – Part Two

  1. Pingback: #22 “Fragile Things” by Neil Gaiman – Part Four | My Infernal Imagination

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