A review of Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

But many of these pieces are in fact exceptionally good and the poetry, although Gaiman makes rather little of his poetry, is very good. He forthrightly asserts that it is meant to be read aloud and he measures its quality by the effectiveness with which audiences have received it. 

Reviewed by Bob Williams

Fragile Things
by Neil Gaiman
HarperCollins
2006, ISBN 0-06-051522-8, $26.95, 360 pages

The versatility of Neil Gaiman is impressive. He has written the text of some of the most important examples of graphic novels, he has written a body of work that occupies an important position in the world of fantasy, and he is a writer of such ability that he transcends limitations of genre. In addition to this he has provided the basics of several movies and has had a varying degree of involvement in their content and development. The first movie MirrorMask was a low budget production with which he had much to do and it is certainly conceivable that MirrorMask may for this reason be his most successful cinematic venture.

This is not to say that the thirty-one pieces – some poetry but mostly prose – of Fragile Things are equally successful. Gaiman excels in the sustained continuous sweep of long fiction and his short works are sketches based on ideas of unequal merit. There are in this book pieces designed to be unpleasant without much redeeming merit except the stretch that the author’s imagination gives to them.

But many of these pieces are in fact exceptionally good and the poetry, although Gaiman makes rather little of his poetry, is very good. He forthrightly asserts that it is meant to be read aloud and he measures its quality by the effectiveness with which audiences have received it. Not at all a bad criterion although a little odd in terms of standard critical judgment.

It’s difficult to list all the best of this book. Some of the material is outstanding on its own merits, but the sketch for a Matrix-style story (‘Goliath’) is of special interest. Conceived as a treatment for the film, it is eerie as one perceives how the film could have been in this far more elaborate treatment of the basic dramatic premise. As one expects, it is the longer stories that excel although many of the shorter works possess high merits. The last story is of special interest. It is a long unused portion of American Gods. In this story (‘The Monarch of the Glen’), Shadow, the hero of American Gods, encounters an unlikely opponent.

Gaiman begins this book as he did his other collection of fugitive prose and poetry (Smoke and Mirrors) with brief accounts of the genesis or circumstances of each piece. This in itself makes enlightening reading as one is able to follow the creative processes of a fascinating and satisfying writer. Gaiman maintains a site of lively and genial informality at http://www.neilgaiman.com/, well worth a look.

A good way to start to read Gaiman is Neverwhere, a novel of sustained imagination of a very high level and beautifully written, but a reader will not go wrong with Fragile Things, a work filled with attractive fragments, well fulfilled work, and sparkling wit.

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places 

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