Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fragile Things ~ Neil Gaiman, Week One

So despite all that I've said about challenges, I've gone and signed myself up for another one.  I've also jumped on the bandwagon, because everybody and her mother is doing Stainless Steel Droppings's Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) VI Challenge.  As much as I hate to be a follower, I just can't help it!  The RIP challenge emphasizes dark, gothic, supernatural literature.  It also has levels designed just for me!  I'm committing myself to Peril of the Short Story and Peril on the Screen, so I'll be reading lots of dark short stories (which I was planning to do anyway) and watching lots of creepy movies (ideally while cuddling under a warm blanket with the know, for protection).  If you like, you can follow my progress over at my Challenges page (just avoid noticing how pathetically I'm doing on all my other challenges).

I've already jump-started the challenge, by joining SSD's group read of Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (check out the reading schedule here and other people's reviews here).  In the introduction to this short story and poem collection, Gaiman discusses his original conception of the collection and how it changed over time into what it is today.  I don't usually like to read these kinds of introductions, but it was actually pretty interesting, and even inspiring.  Gaiman claims that "Writing's a lot like cooking.  Sometimes the cake won't rise, no matter what you do, and every now and again the cake tastes better than you ever dreamed it would."  I love this (and not only because I love cake).  Just because something's not what you imagined doesn't mean it's not good, and that's really exciting for an aspiring yet perpetually blocked writer like myself.  A lot of the introduction is devoted to a brief introductions for each story, so I saved most of them to read in tandem with the stories themselves.  The ones I've read thus far added interesting background information to each story, though some got a bit dull (I don't need to know about every prize).  Overall, the introduction is filled with beautiful writing, inspiration, and a touch of humility, and I'm happy that the group read guidelines kept me from skipping it.

So far, the stories do not disappoint.  The first, "A Study in Emerald," is, according to Gaiman, a fusion of H.P. Lovercraft and Sherlock Holmes.  Though I've never read either, from what I know about them, I see elements of both fused brilliantly together.  A line that I especially loved from it describes the queen of England: "She was called Victoria, because she had beaten us in battle, seven hundred years before, and she was called Gloriana, because she was glorious, and she was called the Queen, because the human mouth was not shaped to say her true name" (11).  The familiar world is turned upside down and goes through many renderings throughout just this one sentence.

It made her eyes glow.  Apparently.
Up next is the first of the collection's poems, of which there aren't all that many.  I was actually pretty surprised to find poetry in here, but pleasantly so.  "The Fairy Reel" is short and sweet.  It follows a pretty conventional form, finding its rhythm in syllable count and rhyme.  For anybody who fears poetry and is upset to hear that verse makes an appearance in this collection, it is quite accessible: only two pages long and quite straightforward, it tells a story of loss and regret.  It is also, as Gaiman tells us in the introduction, "enormously fun to read aloud."  I read it to the cat.

The final selection for today is "October in the Chair," a surprising story that finds all of the months around a campfire for a highly structured monthly meeting in which each tells a story (September is a cheater and tries to repeat an old one).  The story within the story is of a boy and a ghost, and was a "dry run" (xv) for Gaiman's current (as of the introduction) writing exploit.  It is a sweet story encased within a slightly bizarre one.  I would love to read more about the months, as Gaiman characterizes them wonderfully.

So that's it for this week!  I'm excited to read more of the collection, as it starts off wonderfully and I always mean to read more Gaiman, since he never disappoints.  To all participating in the RIP challenge, good luck!  Please leave me some short story and movie recommendations.  To those of you who are not - why not?!  If you need me, I'll be reading all the other reviews that I've been avoiding all morning, for fear that they would taint my own.


  1. Well, in this "challenge" I consider everyone who actually writes reviews and engages in conversation to be leaders and not followers. :)

    Glad you found the introduction interesting and inspiring at points. Gaiman has a way of turning a phrase in such a way that it makes your heart leap.

    I love the line that you mention in A Study in Emerald. It is so interesting, especially considering who the Queen is and what she represents. I'm glad the story works even without a good knowledge of the Doyle and Lovecraft mythos, but with some knowledge of both the story is just brilliant. And both authors are worth reading if you ever take the time, especially if you like things dark and mysterious.

    Your cat must have a bit of faerie inside considering the glowing eyed reaction to The Fairy Reel, LOL! I haven't spent nearly enough time exploring what poetry has to offer, but a few times a year I try some and I generally find things that I like. I'm glad Gaiman occasionally tries his hand at it. It doesn't always work, but two poems in this collection are fantastic.

    I too would love to read more about the months. I think a collection where each of them told a complete story would be very interesting.

    As far as recommendations, what kind of movies do you generally like? That might help with recommendations.

    As for short stories I recommend Poe and Lovecraft especially. Good classic creepy stuff. For more fairy tale stuff with a bit of darkness I would recommend Angela Carter's collection, The Bloody Chamber, and Susanna Clarke's The Ladies of Grace Adieu. Both are excellent short story collections. If you like YA stuff that actually works well for adults, Chris Priestley's Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror is deliciously creepy, with an overarching story like October in the Chair has.

  2. I'm so glad you're doing this readalong too! I think we fall in the same place where "A Study in Emerald" is concerned, with not having much background knowledge of Lovecraft or the Holmes stories. I've never been real drawn to Lovecraft, but I'd be curious to reread Gaiman's story after checking out some of the works he references.

  3. I also want more stories about the months! I think that story is one of my favorites in this collection. They're all so interesting, and we don't get to see much of them in one short story, unfortunately. :(

  4. Yes, I love Neil Gaiman! I feel like his short stories are so re-readable! Everytime I re-read them I think I've stumbled across another lovely clue he's left behind for us! He's so clever, isn't he? And if you like Neil Gaiman, there is a short tv series called "Neverwhere" based on a book by Neil Gaiman, which I really enjoyed.


  5. I like the Neverwhere TV series as well. Doesn't have the greatest production values but is fun. It reminds me, production value wise, of the older Doctor Who shows.

  6. Ooh, I've been meaning to watch Neverwhere ever since I listened to the audiobook! Thanks for the reminder! And Poe and Lovecraft are both on my list, I just have to pick up a collection of Lovecraft stories. I've never seen the older Dr. Who episodes - are they as good as the new ones? Since they're the originals, I'd imagine so, but you never know!

  7. The older Doctor Who episodes are certainly not the same as the newer ones, but television is different now than it used to be. I like some of the older doctors, but I wouldn't compare them with the stories now.

  8. Oh, I am so with you (I think. I am inferring here) when it comes to challenges. I can't seem to complete my own. But Carl is infectious. Somehow, I can complete his (or at least, I've managed to complete one and am well on my way to completing this year's R.I.P.). I, like you, would love to read more about the months as Gaiman imagines them.

  9. I love the fact that the monarchy is composed of monstrous overlords. It made me laugh when I realized it. I'm afraid that I sympathize with the Restorationists. :P

  10. I loved hearing your thoughts on the Fairy Reel - I also thought it was a beauty of a little poem! I also would totally throw my hat in the ring for a story collection from each of the months, but I'm also worried that doing that might take away from "October in the Chair", which I just loved so, so much! This is my first time going through the RIP Challenge and I'm absolutely LOVING IT. And this is coming from someone who is usually the pits at actually sticking to a challenge!