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Fragile Things

Neil Gaiman

I believe we owe it to each other to tell stories. It's as close to a credo as I have or will, I suspect, ever get. "

Reviewed by Avi  Bercovich

Gaiman's lucid prose and fabulous flights of fantasy have earned him a measure of fame and success in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres that rivals that of his popstar friends. I imagine that when the book was announced in 2006, Tori Amos immediately reached for her sleeping bag and thermos flask in anticipation of a long night outside The Book Shoppe on Porchester high steet. It's unfortunate therefore, that Fragile Things seems more of a "publishers work" aimed at boosting quarterly revenue than an honest attempt at fresh storytelling by the Maestro. As disappointing as it is that all but one of the stories were published elsewhere before inclusion in this collection, none of the included stories really fails to entertain. 

The opening story A study on Emerald is nicely formulaic - much befitting its victorian subject and style - but the same writing-by-numbers device falls flat in Forbidden Brides... and Good Boys Deserve Favours. On the other hand October in the Chair is a wonderfully Gaimanesque inversion of reality in which the months of the year sit together swapping stories. Fabulous! 

Locks, Inventing Aladdin and The Flints of Memory Lane are interesting musings on the nature of storytelling - one of the themes Gaiman tries to explore in this collection. Harlequin Valentine, Bitter Grounds, Sunbird, Other People and How to Talk to Girls at Parties are good examples of the stories of "becoming" that Gaiman is so adept at. They all come full circle and are nicely 'story shaped', but like much of Fragile Things none of them is truly amazing. 

Finally, Gaiman also gives us a glimpse of his skill in constructing an 'inter-tale backstory universe' when the characters introduced in the Keepsakes and Treasures story return in the novella version of American Gods, which closes the collection.

Indicative of the ok-but-not-amazing character of this collection is the fact that the freshly written semi-fiction of the introduction is a very definite highlight. In it Gaiman offers some fascinating insights into the how and why of his writing, spinning short stories about the writers and events that inspired the collection and telling tales of their commissioning and publishing. It may be that I'm used to reading Gaiman's longer works where he has more time to weave his immersive magicke, but whatever the reason, it's hard not to feel that Fragile Things isn't quite up to Gaiman's usually very high standards. Possibly it's time for Mr Gaiman to leave Americaland, where he seems to have fallen into the clutches of Agents and Marketeers, and returns to England to write some more of the really good stuff.

Avi Bercovich , having suffered through Arthur van Schendels gruesome work 'Grauwe Vogels' for his A-levels, has assiduously avoided 'serious' literature and has since read loads of Comics, Sci-Fi and Fantasy instead.


PublisherHeadline Review

Publication Date: 2006

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?: No

Author bio: Neil Gaiman, winner of every single Sci-Fi and Fantasy literary award this side of Alpha Centauri, is one of the most prolific and successful writers of Sci-Fi and Fantasy comics, books, short stories and films. His comic series The Sandman and novel American Gods are essential reading, though some feel that the lesser-known novel Neverwhere might be even better.

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