Gaiman is a writer of rich and vivid imagination. This collection of short stories, short fiction and poems demonstrate his talent on every page. Hovering between reality and fantasy he has created a distinctive world peopled with ordinary people, young and old, who meet up with ghosts, zombies and other creatures. With great skill and ease Gaiman creates credible characters and compelling scenarios.
Some "fragile things" describe dreams, others move effortlessly from actuality to visions of otherworldliness often taking the reader by surprise. Most of the stories in this collection have a serious, some a macabre, side to them. At the same time, humour and irony are natural companions. There is the young boy, ignored by his family and peers, who finally meets a friend and companion as he runs away to start a new life. A Harlequin character reinvents himself with every real life Valentine heart he sends to an object of his desire. Storytelling is a theme for many of the characters in the collection. In "October in the Chair" we listen in as every month competes for the best story that the others haven't heard before. Many of the stories were inspired by other writers and friends and fiction pieces were written for their magazines or anthologies.
While each of the stories has been published previously, it is a treat to have them collected in one volume. Every piece stands by itself, yet, when read contiguously each adds elements to a whole creating for the reader a complex tapestry of imaginary lives. Anybody who has read other Gaiman books will welcome his volume. For newcomers, Fragile Things is a great introduction to his work. [Friederike Knabe]
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
128 of 136 people found the following review helpful
Typical Gaiman -- which is a very good thing.Sept. 29 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
This collection contains exactly the sort of stories that one would expect Neil Gaiman to write -- brilliant, original, imaginative fantasy tales that occasionally make tentative steps across the border into Horror(but never quite cross over). Fantasy, but lyric fantasy, not epic, and grounded in our reality -- there are no hobbits here, and almost all these tales concern fantasy elements that seem to have somehow brushed up against our reality, rather than the reverse.
If you like Neil Gaiman's other works, you'll like these stories; if you don't, you probably won't; if you don't know whether you do or not, but you're interested enough to read Amazon reviews, then this collection provides a magnificent place to start.
I will focus on the flaws, not because the collection is flawed, or because any of these flaws are significant in comparison with the compelling and powerful strengths of the stories, but because the stories are so good that a list of their virtues would become boring ("this story is the best story about this thing since Neil Gaiman's last story about this thing.")
1) Some, most, or perhaps all of these stories have appeared in prior publications; I believe "The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch" and "Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot" were in some editions of Smoke and Mirrors, "A Study in Emerald" was available for a long time (if it isn't still) on Neil Gaiman's website, "Harlequin Valentine" has been available as a small illustrated hardcover for a long time now, etc. If you're enough of a Neil Gaiman fan to have tracked down all those disparate stories, though, in all those disparate places, this single volume will probably be a marked convenience.
2) There are stories in here that are unsettling, but none that I would classify as actually *scary* -- the sort of horror, if it can be called horror, that becomes more frightening the more imaginative you are, the way a particularly startling pattern of shadows might terrify a child but have no effect whatsoever on a more rationally-minded adult. Long time readers of Gaiman won't consider this a flaw, but rather a virtue - subtlety is far rarer in fiction these days, and far more difficult to achieve, than simple raw horror - but I mention it as a caveat to the virgin.
3) I personally felt that some of the outside references in the stories fell a bit flat, and a few of the stories fell a bit short of Gaiman's best work. The reworking of Beowulf here ("The Monarch of the Glen") was not as effective as his earlier "Bay Wolf", and felt a bit like a pastiche of Gaiman's other characters, plus Grendel. On the other hand, "The Problem of Susan" may be the most effective and disturbing reworking of a children's story since Gaiman's own "Snow, Glass, Apples" in _Smoke and Mirrors_, and "A Study in Emerald" is simultaneously one of the best Lovecraft pastiches and one of the best Sherlock Holmes pastiche I've ever seen.
The following stories are contained in this collection:
1) An introduction where Gaiman details some background on each of the stories, and includes a short-short story on its own as well (titled "The Mapmaker")
2) A Study in Emerald
3) The Fairy Reel (poem)
4) October in the Chair
5) The Hidden Chamber
6) Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire
7) The Flints of Memory Lane
8) Closing Time
9) Going Wodwo (poem)
10) Bitter Grounds
11) Other People
12) Keepsakes and Treasures
13) Good Boys Deserve Favors
14) The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch
15) Strange Little Girls
16) Harlequin Valentine
18) The Problem of Susan
20) How Do You Think It Feels?
21) My Life
22) Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot
23) Feeders and Eaters
24) Diseasemaker's Croup
25) In the End
27) Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Louisville, Kentucky
28) How to Talk to Girls at Parties
29) The Day the Saucers Came
31) Inventing Aladdin
32) The Monarch of the Glen
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Fragile (and Uneven) ThingsFeb. 6 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
This excellent story collection is a bit like a pop CD that is frontloaded with its best material. Thus, if this book had ended on page 112, I would have been quite happy. This book's interstitial poems aside (which Gaiman essentially apologizes for in the author's notes), the stories up to that point range from good to brilliant. It's a fantastic run of storytelling, and I was sad to see it end.
But end it does. From there in, the tales range from: -- the unbelievable ("Keepsakes and Treasures") and yes, I use the word advisedly... -- to the uninspired ("Good Boys Deserve Favors")... -- to the unfortunate, namely, CD liner notes for Neil's "personal friend," Tori Amos ("Strange Little Girls")... -- and sometimes, back to the excellent ("The Monarch of the Glen," among others).
I think that part of the problem with the material stems from the fact that people apparently ring Gaiman asking him to contribute for specialty anthologies. ("Neil, I'm putting together a collection of stories about gargoyles. Are you in?") This type of "spec work" is perhaps not the best way to seek inspiration. So to continue my previous analogy, this book's substandard material should be thought of as a CD's bonus tracks.
That said, FRAGILE THINGS is a mostly enjoyable read, and to reiterate, the first third of the book alone is worth the price of admission.
45 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Mix of the fantastic and the mundaneOct. 19 2006
Author Bill Peschel
- Published on Amazon.com
Neil Gaiman weaves the threads of fairy tales, mythology and archetypes throughout his fiction, which, combined with a writing style that's simple and adorned with elegant turns of phrases, has made him one of the leading figures in fantastic fiction. "Fragile Things," his collection of short stories and poems, contains excellent stories about desire and loss, a few wonderful riffs on genre fiction, a bunch of middling stories and poems and a few bones for Gaiman completists and Tori Amos fans.
The gulf between the stories can be described by comparing two of them: "October in the Chair" and "Good Boys Deserve Favors." Dedicated to Ray Bradbury, "October" reinvents Bradbury's wonderful mingling of the fantastic with the bitter reality of childhood. The personifications of the months of the year gather to tell stories, and October ("his beard was all colors, a grove of trees in autumn, deep brown and fire-orange and wine-red, an untrimmed tangle across the lower half of his face") describes the short, bitter life of Runt, a boy who's bullied by his elder twin brothers and pitied by his parents. He runs away from home and, on the edge of town, by an abandoned farmhouse, befriends the ghost of a boy. It's a sad tale, with a sad ending that could also be thought of as a happy ending.
"Good Boys" is a nicely written story about another boy, at public school, who takes up the double bass because he has to learn an instrument, and he likes the notion of a small boy playing a big instrument. He neglects his lessons, preferring to read, and then one day, while not practicing, he's visited by adults who ask him to play. He simply plays, and plays beautifully. Later, he accidentally breaks the bass, but the repairs have drained it of whatever magic it held. He transfers to another school and stops playing the bass ("The thought of changing to a new instrument seemed vaguely disloyal, while the dusty black bass that sat in a cupboard in my new school's music rooms seemed to have taken a dislike to me."). Puberty hits, and that's the end of it.
"Good Boys" may be a simple story about a block-headed student who encounters a magic that leaves him unmarked. Gaiman's men in several stories share that indifference. Bizarre things happen to people they to encounter (the waspish guest in "The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch") or barely know (the long-ago co-worker encountered again in the gruesome "Feeders and Eaters"), and their response is a blank stare followed by a "well, that was interesting." It's English understatement bordering on ennui.
Gaiman mentions in his introduction writing stories "told in the first person and were slices of lives," so "Good Boys" may be meant to start and end without really going anywhere.
In my nastier moments, I'd think that he had the germ of a better story and couldn't be buggered to finish it.
"Fragile Things" contains some excellent stories as well. Fans of "American Gods" will appreciate Shadow's return in the novella "The Monarch of the Glen." "A Study in Emerald" crosses Sherlock Holmes with H.P. Lovecraft and the result is rarely encountered after generations of Holmes pastiches: a clever tale that's worthy of Alan Moore. "Goliath" is a better "Matrix" story than most of the films. "Harlequin Valentine" and "How Do You Think It Feels?" are memorably twisted love stories and "Keepsakes and Treasures" a surprisingly nasty tale to those who've forgotten "Sandman" stories like "24 Hours."
The better Gaiman tales are inhabited by the human heart, with all its passion and pain. His stories are better when his people bleed.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Neil's Odds n' SodsMay 18 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
Did you ever pick up one of those compilation albums by one of your favorite musicians, only to find it to be full of undeveloped ideas and vanity pieces that were rightfully withheld from the proper albums in the first place? This anthology from the usually awesome Neil Gaiman is the literary equivalent of a collection of B-sides and outtakes, and there's a reason many of these ideas are not in his much more developed novels. Like any odds n' sods collection, there are a few flashes of brilliance here, like the modern Sherlock Holmes tale "A Study in Emerald" and the gruesomely whimsical "Sunbird." There are also a few enjoyable entries that highlight Gaiman's well-known interest in fairy tales, like "Harlequin Valentine." But most of the short stories here are toss-offs to themed anthologies or tribute editions; and regardless of the fact that several of these tales were award winners in the realms where they originally appeared, many seem undeveloped and arbitrary.
Gaiman is correct in stating that his tribute to Ray Bradbury, "October in the Chair," would have been better written by Bradbury himself, and tributes to other works like "Goliath" (The Matrix) and "The Problem of Susan" (Narnia) are vanity pieces at best. Some stories such as "Diseasemaker's Croup" are disappointinggly anemic snippets of thin and fanciful ideas, with probably more reward for the writer than the reader. This book's examples of Gaiman's poetry and targeted prose (such as the snippets written for the Strange Little Girls album by Tori Amos) are intriguing but directionless, and the majority of short stories are just plain unmemorable. Gaiman is one of my favorite writers and I recommend his novels whole-heartedly. But this collection is surely not appropriate for the casual fan, and even serious fans will probably find it disappointing and a bit self-indulgent. [~doomsdayer520~]
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Not Neil's BestJan. 4 2007
Andreas L. Matern
- Published on Amazon.com
This collection of short stories does not really reflect the writer Neil Gaiman is. There are a few hits, but far too many misses. His imagination is still awe-inspiring, but some of the shorts in this collection needed a harsher editor. Still not a bad read.