Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman (2006)

Neil Gaiman is an eclectic writer, and this collection of short works illustrates his range. There are over thirty pieces in Fragile Things, fairly evenly split between poetry and short stories with a novella tossed in at the end. As is the case with large and eccentric collections, not everything will be to everyone's taste, but there will probably be something in the book for everyone.

Overall, the poetry is a little weak. Gaiman is a very evocative writer and while the poetry certainly has mood, it rarely seems to do much beyond setting a mood. Gaiman's great strength lies in plotting and in bringing mythology (or Ur-mythology) into a contemporary setting. Poetry is not a form which is conducive to elaborate, tight plotting; the poems, therefore, do not play to Gaiman's strengths.

The short stories are, on the whole, better than the poems. They run the gamut from pretty good to quite exceptional with side trips into funny on one side and disturbing on the other. The two best short stories in the book exemplify this. Harlequin Valentine is disturbing and excellent, while Sunbird is funny and excellent. Both have those elements of modernizing fantasy and myth that Gaiman does so well. A Study in Emerald is also quite good; it is a mishmash of Lovecraftian Cthulhu mythos and a Sherlock Holmes story and works well.

The final entry in the book is The Monarch of the Glen, a novella which revisits the world of American Gods. It is one of the best, if not the best, things in the book, showcasing everything Gaiman does well. Interesting characters, tight plotting, wonderful slightly odd settings and resonant images from old stories (in this case bits of Beowulf among others) transplanted into the 21st century with such skill that they do not seem out of place at all.

As I mentioned, such a diverse book is almost guaranteed to have some hits and some misses. There are more hits than misses in Fragile Things and several of the hits are bullseyes. For completists, it's a must have, for those unfamiliar with Gaiman's work, it would be a good way to get a sample of his various styles and some pointers toward further reading.

Overall Grade: B+ (with a few B-'s and a couple of A+'s)

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