20 January 2007

Book Review: Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman

As with most things in the Gaiman-verse, you never know what to expect. Certainly there are shared elements of fantasy, horror, myth and legend, but in every work he produces, Gaiman manages to twist and mold these elements in entrancing ways. This collection of "short stories and wonders" blends short stores, poetry, and ballads to great effect.

"The Fairy Reel" is a haunting poem about the dangers of music and magic, and how a fairy's priorities are not to please you. Beautifully written, and not necessarily expected. Another poetic work, "Inventing Aladdin" recounts the anxiety that Scheherazade experiences night after night.

Gaiman's short stories comprise the bulk of the book and have themes as varied as his characters. "The Problem of Susan" is a reaction to the Narnia tales and the frustrating notion of Susan returning. The story approaches the problem (as many children and adults see it) from the opposite direction--not from Narnia, but from the workaday world years after the experience, while "The Sunbird" is a retelling of the Phoenix legend that places the rare mythological bird at the center of a hunt by a group of epicurians who are not prepared for what their least impressive member cooks up for them. Closing the book is a novella, "Monarch of the Glen," featuring Shadow, the bodyguard from American Gods, two years following the events in the novel. For American Gods fans, this story alone is reason enough to pick up the collection.

All in all the collection is varied, enjoyable, and well written. Touching on as many corners of the mythological universe as we can imagine, every Gaiman book is a treasure trove of allusions, retellings, and extensions of ideas and concepts most readers only wonder about. The style is markedly different from his graphic novels, and offers a glimpse into Gaiman's range. Through all of the incarnations of his writing--children's books, graphic novels, comics, screenplays, novels and short stories--the same underlying themes are present, only told through various different voices. Even if his other forms of writing don't move the reader, it is certainly worth investigating Gaiman's other styles. A nice feature of the book is the collection of brief biographies of each piece in the collection. Sometimes they offer insight into the story itself, other times they make the reading that much more interesting because the nativity of the work is hovering around while you're reading. All in all, a wonderful collection of stories.