I have a love hate relationship with Neil Gaiman’s writings. I love how he uses language to create an otherworldly sense of place and characters that are always far more than what’s happening on the page. But, many of his writings do nothing for me. With each new book, I start reading with the hope that this one will scratch my Gaiman itch. Sometimes those hopes are dashed.
So it was with reluctance that I picked up this collection of his shorter works. With so many different offerings, I knew there would be several I would truly enjoy and then there would be others that I probably wouldn’t like at all. And.. I was right.
This is also why it’s taken me the better part of a year to finish reading all of them. After each disappointment I’d put the book down as if I were punishing it. When enough time had passed, I’d pick it up and give the next story a try.
A sampling of my favorites
This poem holds tiny pieces of other stories I have grown to love. There is an element of mystery and whimsy as the poet instructs the reader along a cryptic journey giving very specific instructions that feel as if they are meant to either enchant the reader or keep them from harm. The further into the poem the reader ventures, the deeper they find themselves in a wondrous land of fairy tale and magic.
As with many profound tales, this poem wanders itself into a circle and the reader finds themselves back where they started, only changed.
I feel this story is inspired by the Matrix, but one that feels more faithful to how being a consciousness living in the confines of a computer program might work. Our main character is literally larger than life, a Goliath of a man. Throughout his life, he experiences odd shifts where he knows something has changed, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. With each shift, he becomes more convinced that his life is nothing more than a sham covering up something much deeper and darker than he can imagine.
When the truth comes for him, he’s ready to face what real life looks like and take up the duties he has been training for since his “life” began.
As someone who loves experiencing culture through food, this tale of rare Epicurean delights was as fascinating as it was delicious. The aptly named Epicurian Club has set out to consume the world’s rarest delights, ranging from extinct species to all the different beetles of the world. They go to great lengths to challenge their tastes and stretch their palates. When the mention of the rare and exquisite sunbird piques their attention, they make plans to travel to Egypt to try it. Needless to say, the so called sunbird has a few mythical qualities of its own that makes this story even more delectable.
This isn’t the easiest book to simply sit down and read through. As with many Gaiman stories, the enjoyment of reading comes from paying attention to all the subtle details that rise to the surface or are brushed past in the narrative. This level of reading intensity makes it hard to find uninterrupted time to enjoy each work the way it was intended to be read, that is, slowly and with attention to detail.
Personally, now that I’ve read Gaiman’s shorter works, I can see why I favor his novel length stories better. If I’m going to invest that kind of time and attention to a story, I want to experience it for a long time and dive deeply into these characters and conflicts. There is always so much going on that it feels like the shorter works don’t do these stories justice.
If you love a story that stretches your thinking and challenges reality, you’ll find several works in this collection that will fill that need. While these all are speculative fiction, they swing back and forth from science fiction to fantasy, often capturing elements of both in tandem. There’s also a healthy dash of elements of folklore stirred in for even more depth.
However, this isn’t for light reading by any stretch of the imagination. Nor is it a book for younger readers as the subject matter tends to dive into deeper topics and there is coarse language and graphic descriptions.
While in the end I’m glad I gave the collection a try, I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone but those who already like Neil Gaiman’s writings.
I give Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things 3 out of 5 stars for stretching my thinking but not scratching my literary itch.
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