Neil Gaiman is one of the rare writers whose novels and short stories
I enjoy equally. His previous short story collection, "Smoke and
Mirrors," is one of my favorite books, full stop, so I was looking
forward to "Fragile Things." I wasn't disappointed---in fact, I had
to ration myself to keep from reading it all in a single gulp.
"Fragile Things" starts a little slow---I've read "A Study in Emerald"
before, and while the Sherlock Holmes-meets-H.P Lovecraft setting is
interesting, I found the resolution unfulfilling. There were also
three ghost stories told in the first-person---"The Flints of Memory
Lane," "Closing Time," and "Good Boys Deserve Favors"---which felt
unsatisfyingly like memoirs, and not so much like stories. They
weren't bad, but they weren't what I was looking for either.
("October in the Chair" is a ghost story as well, and I found it
marvellous, so I think my dislike lies more in the manner of their
telling than in their bare facts.)
As in "Smoke and Mirrors," Gaiman mixes a handful of poems in with the
short stories, and they are likely to be more of an individual taste.
I personally like Neil Gaiman's poems, and I'm glad he included them
in this book, but I can see how some might not. With the exception of
"The Fairy Reel," they are all prose-poems, and this works better in
some cases than in others. I think "The Fairy Reel" is probably my
favorite of the poems included.
There are a lot of good--sometimes funny, sometimes sweet, often
disturbing---stories in this collection. "Harlequin Valentine" is the
story of what Harlequin does on Valentine's Day, and it's both creepy
and oddly sweet. "Other People" is a wonderfully-crafted, Mobius-like
short-short story about a man who goes to Hell. "Sunbird" is the tale
of an Epicurean Society which has run out of new and interesting
things to eat. Gaiman has always excelled at characterization, and
these stories are no exception---the people you meet are often as
interesting as the stories themselves. Harlequin pines after Missy;
Smith insinuates himself with you, then shows himself to be a true
bastard; the Runt is heartbreakingly earnest.
"Fragile Things" includes "Goliath," the only piece of straight-up
science fiction I think I've read by Neil Gaiman. The story, set in
the universe of the movie "The Matrix," proves him just as good at SF
as he is at fantasy, and just as capable of creating characters we
care about. The book also includes the novella "The Monarch of the
Glen," set two years after the events in "American Gods," which finds
Shadow acting as "local security" for a shadowy gathering of the
well-heeled in a remote part of Scotland. It's a nice reprise, and,
as might be imagined, a few more interesting mythological figures show
In "Fragile Things," Gaiman's writing is as well-crafted and as full
of wonder and darkness as always. If you liked "Smoke and Mirrors,"
you won't be disappointed, and if you've never read Neil Gaiman's
short stories before, you're in for a treat.