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

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  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
  18. More Than This – Patrick Ness

It’s embarrassing, how long it took me to finish this book. It shouldn’t have taken as long as it did.  And I really don’t have a good explanation. But now, I’ve finished and you guys might get some different posts from me. You know, rather than four in a row on the same book, by the same author. It must’ve gotten a little boring for you guys. But, I’m a Gaimaniac and I refuse to apologise.

I actually have a bet going with a friend of mine. If he can get through Neverwhere (the novelisation, not the TV show or the radio play), from cover-to-cover without giving up then I have to watch a horror/gore movie of his choosing. Seems like I’ve given him an easy bet to win, but even if I have nightmares for a week after watching whichever gruesome murder-fest he picks, I’ll finally be able to talk Gaiman with him. Which is the whole point any way. Am I devious or what?

Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky
Inspired by an album and his own novel, American Gods, this story was a little higgledy-piggledy. There was no point, but that is the point. Imagine stumbling across someone’s partial journal. Nothing you read would make sense. There would be no logic, no overarching themes. Just a bunch of names and places that mean nothing to you. Gaiman wrote it to be a little unfulfilling, but I loved it. I felt like I was travelling with the protagonist as he hunted for Scarlet. One day I’m going to take a road trip, just like that one. Except for the whole “looking-for-someone-who-may-not-exist” thing. Always wanted to get into a car and just drive around Australia, stopping when I need to stop for petrol. But I’m too introverted. I think I’d mostly keep to myself, and doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a road trip?

How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Besides Doctor Who, I really don’t get into sci-fi. Give me magic over invention any day. I don’t know why I prefer fantasy, I just do. Books about aliens, I dunno. I just can’t get into. Maybe it’s all the weird words.
But this story may have shifted my perspective of sci-fi just a little. What Gaiman did was take play with that old male adage that women are a whole other species. What he did was make women alien. Like, an alien race. And then he put them in a setting for his protagonist where girls were alien (read: strange) anyway: a teenage boy from an all-boy school.
See, now, Gaiman can make clichéd themes so fresh that you’d think he was the first man to ever think that women were from Venus. I should have been pissed off with the unbelievability of the protagonist’s belief in the normalcy of the girls’ dialogue, but Gaiman wrote such a convincing naïve young man (who actually had a name!) that you suspend your disbelief.
Suspending disbelief is something that good authors can have you do. Whenever you read anything that deviates from the norm, even a little, the author has to work that much harder to make you belief the fantasy. Gaiman always make it seem so effortless

The Day the Saucers Came
Gaiman, you sassy thing. As I read this poem, I thought the end was going to be really sad. Like, all of these monumental things like Ragnarok and aliens landing and zombies rising were happening but someone was missing it. I thought that person was were dead. But no. The person that the persona was talking to in this poem was missing the amazing occurrences because she was checking her phone and waiting for the persona to call her. Zing!
What an epic, hilarious way to convey that people should live in the moment and not wait for things to happen. Also, why didn’t the woman just call the persona?
If someone ever gets angry at me for not calling them, I think I’m just going to send them this poem.

Sunbird
This story was a belated birthday present for Gaiman’s daughter. And you can tell. This story isn’t quite as dark or as full-on as the other stories in this anthology. The names were ridiculous and the story was brighter than the others. It felt like a story he would have told his daughter when she was a little girl, instead of at nineteen. Which is how old his daughter was when he finally gave her this story.
The tone and the voice of this story had a distinct fairytale feel, right up until the final moments when we discover the true identity of the Sunbird. And why one of the characters ate weird things such as lightning bugs and charcoal. I loved that those tiny details all tied together at the end, and that the ramblings of the homeless guy turned out to be memories.
Humour and fantasy comes in so many different versions and it’s been a while since I read a story where these things were so innocent. Innocence is sometimes overrated. Maybe people don’t appreciate that things can be funny without being dirty or sexual or cultural or political. But Gaiman does. We can all learn so much from this man. (Seriously, how many times have I said that now? Have you guys made a drinking game out of this yet?)

Inventing Alladin
Instead of creating a story for this poem, Gaiman creates an origin. An origin for Alladin. He creates a story for a story that’s been around for centuries.
I would read poetry for the rest of my life, if it all read like Gaiman’s. Why does poetry have to be so needlessly vague when Gaiman shows us that poems can actually have a point, still be viable, still be published, and even win awards?
Maybe Gaiman is just too good for poetry. And that’s why he sticks to prose.

The Monarch of the Glen
It was definitely brilliant planning on Gaiman and his editor’s behalf to put this story in last. It’s not even a short story, it’s a spinoff novella of the amazing American Gods. It was nice to see what became of Shadow after that huge battle between the old gods and the new gods. But the poor guy just can’t catch a break. Shadow’s just escaped from the supernatural world, only to find himself right back where he started. And while he’s trying to take a break from it all, too.
The interesting thing was that we were introduced to a character that I’d seen before in this anthology. A deviously rich little man named Mr. Alice who we met in ‘Keepsakes and Treasures’. I like that characters get stuck inside Gaiman’s head. It shows that he actually cares about them, and that they aren’t just cogs in a story machine. Wednesday even made an appearance, even if we aren’t quite sure whether he was really there or not.
In true American Gods style, the plot was quite thick. It twisted and turned and, most importantly, kept us guessing why Shadow was in that weird house with all of the rich people. Right up until the first body blow.
I gotta tell you, though, it was nice to have a protagonist with a name for a change. I write stories without character names, don’t get me wrong, but when it’s 400 odd pages of no-names, you can get a little lost in the mystery. And not quite in a good way.
I don’t recommend reading this story if you haven’t read American Gods. “The Monarch in the Glen” does stand alone, but you won’t understand all of the references to Shadow’s past. And, more importantly, there’s a bit of a spoiler embedded into some character dialogue that once read, can’t be unread. 

★★★★ 1/2

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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.
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