Neil Gaiman's latest collection, Fragile Things, compiles 31 "Short Fictions and Wonders," including such varied items as a story based on tarot cards and short pieces written for Tori Amos CD booklets. However, the book is also full to the brim (and spilling over?there is even an extra story in the introduction) with Gaiman's incredibly imaginative stories. In some of his best, Gaiman opens up other writers' fictions, examines the core and shines quite a different light on them.
In "The Problem of Susan," he considers Susan's unsatisfying fate at the end of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. In the poem "Instructions," the reader is given advice on how to survive various fairy tales. And in the first story, the Hugo Award winner "A Study in Emerald," Gaiman mixes H.P. Lovecraft's Elder Gods and Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes with great panache. Other stories play with familiar forms: Gaiman likes to tell stories, or have his characters sit around and tell stories, so that in pieces such as "Sunbird," the reader almost has the sensation of hearing the story read aloud.
Gaiman began as a journalist, wrote comics and now writes everything from poetry to films. His work shows the ease with which he moves between these worlds; he straddles many genres and crosses many lines, one of which is the (sometimes invisible) line between adult and young adult fiction. As with many of the pieces here, "Instructions" was originally published in a young adult anthology. But Gaiman's popularity among both sets of readers shows that, while occasionally facile, he neither talks down to or waters down his work?for either set.
Only one new story, "How to Talk to Girls at Parties," is included in Fragile Things, but due to the wide range of venues the other stories have appeared in, most readers will find plenty of new material here to enjoy.
Gavin J. Grant is the co-editor of The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror: 2006 (St. Martin's). Copyright 2006 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2006 July #2
Neo-Goth-Pulp-Noir has pretty much been trademarked by Gaiman (Anansi Boys, 2005, etc.), and these 31 jagged slices of life and the afterlife dependably deliver the damaged goods: zombies, dream-haunted kiddies, femmes fatale and fiends.Reprising his role from American Gods (2001) as ex-con, taciturn hunk, superhero and reincarnation of the Norse god Baldur, Shadow shakes things up in "The Monarch of the Glen," battling a primeval beastie and romancing a woodland nymph in the unlikely setting of a tycoon's get-together on the Scottish heath. "Good Boys Deserve Favours" highlights a lonely lad's moony passion for his double bass. "Strange Little Girls," penned to accompany a Tori Amos CD, catalogues the Eternal Feminine from showgirls to Holocaust victims to la belle dame sans merci. "October in the Chair" whimsically features the months as characters. "A Study in Emerald" offers smart, nifty homage to Conan Doyle. In "Harlequin Valentine," Missy the waitress chows down lovingly on the heart of the motley-clad acrobat of the commedia dell'arte, but even that grisly feast is rendered with swooning lyricism. Gaiman again proves himself a perverse romantic, heir not only to Poe and Baudelaire but to the breathless Pre-Raphaelites. (The poetry he includes here, for example, is generally less creepy than drippy.) He wears his pop cred in boldface, and street-smart hipness saturates these eerie epiphanies. But the collection also boasts lush prose, a lack of irony and a winning faith in the enchantment of stories.Expect the unexpected. Then savor the luscious chills. Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2006 June #2
An alternate Victorian England. Months of the Year sitting around chatting. These are some of the ideas firing the 25-plus stories in Gaiman's new collection. With a one-day laydown on September 26. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2006 September #1
This third collection of short fictions and wonder (after Smoke and Mirrors and Adventures in the Dream Trade ) from the author of Anansi Boys ranges from a tale of zombies to a series of meditations inspired by singer Tori Amos's album, Strange Little Girls . As in his other books, there are fantastical elements. Gaiman follows no overarching theme, but that is what makes these stories charming, at times creepy, and good fun. They read like dreams and meditations, with a stream-of-consciousness quality to their presentation. Gaiman also explains some of the inspiration behind the stories to help put them in perspective. Overall, well worth adding to any collection; highly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/06.] Anastasia Diamond, Cleveland P.L.[Page 140]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Hot off the critical success of Anansi Boys , Gaiman offers this largely disappointing medley that feels like a collection of idea seeds that have yet to mature. Among the ground covered: an old woman eats her cat alive, slowly; two teenage boys fumble through a house party attended by preternaturally attractive aliens; a raven convinces a writer attempting realism to give way to fantastical inclinations. A few poems, heartfelt or playfully musical, pockmark the collection. At his best, Gaiman has a deft touch for surprise and inventiveness, and there are inspired moments, including one story that brings the months of the year to life and imagines them having a board meeting. (September is an "elegant creature of mock solicitude," while April is sensitive but cruel; they don't get along), but most of these stories rely too heavily on the stock-in-trade of horror, sci-fi and fantasy. Gaiman only once or twice gives himself the space necessary to lock the reader's attention.150,000 announced first printing.(Oct.)[Page 131]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School In this collection of stories (and a few poems), storytellers and the act of storytelling have prominent roles. The anthropomorphized months of the year swap tales at their annual board meeting: a half-eaten man recounts how he made the acquaintance of his beloved cannibal; and even Scheherazade, surely the greatest storyteller of all, receives a tribute with a poem. The stories are by turns horrifying and fanciful, often blending the two with a little sex, violence, and humor. An introduction offers the genesis of each selection, itself a stealthy way of initiating teens into the art of writing short stories, and to some of the important authors of the genre. Gaiman cites his influences, and readers may readily see the inflection of H. P. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury in many of the tales. Horror and fantasy are forms of literature wrought with clichs, but Gaiman usually comes up with an interesting new angle. This collection is more poetic and more restrained than Stephen King's short stories and more expertly written than China Mieville's Looking for Jake (Ballantine, 2005). Gaiman skips along the edge of many adolescent fascinations-life, death, the living dead, and the occult-and teens with a taste for the weird will enjoy this book Emma Coleman, Berkeley Public Library, CA[Page 164]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.