Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman

I'd heard so much about Neil Gaiman.

He's probably the most followed auteur author on Twitter, he wrote a quality episode of my favourite TV programme (Doctor Who - The Doctor's Wife), I loved the movie Stardust and he's become a sort-of geek Elvis.  Inspired, I reserved a copy of a short story collection from my local library, my first Gaiman.

I hope I chose poorly.

Fragile Things is a collection of short stories and poetry that Gaiman was commissioned to write for various collations.  It begins with a twenty-odd page exploration into the roots of each tale, during which he writes about a time where he began to collaborate with master of the genre Harlan Ellison.  He says that Ellison had to finish one of his own works, and told Gaiman to begin work on their short story and he'd catch up.  When he returned, he told Gaiman "No, not doing it - it reads like Neil Gaiman".  This could perhaps sum up the book better than any of my observations: Gaiman has his own recognisable style which he pairs with a varying tone from story to story.

Which is fine, of course, expected even - except when the stories aren't grabbing the reader.  The title, Fragile Things, is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the work, for it perfectly describes Gaiman's writing.  He uses each word precisely, delicately and lightly, giving the reader the feeling that should they close the book too quickly, the words of the text will dislodge and flutter into disorder.  He writes like one assembles a jigsaw - there is no alternative but to be precise.

Courtesy: Jar of Juice
He is an artisan, respectful of the written word and it's propensity misuse and so writes with paramount agility.  Unfortunately for my preferences though, his deftness with sentence construction is paired with a minimalist approach to storyline; this collection comprises mainly beautifully constructed scenes which rarely tell the end of the tale.

The stories within are immaculate games of "What If...", leading to a number of unusual situations, but often lack resolution.  In many ways, this book is like a lighter collection of Coen Brothers short films - stuff happens and then the movie ends.  Given my past reviews, it should come as no surprise  that resolution forms a key part of my literary enjoyment.  Gaiman, like the Coens, aren't strong on this and prefer to present interesting scenes that leave the reader where the artist started - with a "What about..."

In Volume One of his prison diaries, Jeffrey Archer wrote about creating short fictions.  When doing so, he said, it was imperative to have the end in mind.  A novel could be plotted logically and, although needing to collect tension properly and avoid any Deus ex machinae, didn't need a hard ending in mind when writing began.  Archer is obviously from a completely different school of writing from Gaiman, but there is reason to his statements.  Gaiman can ignore them simply because these short fictions rarely led anywhere, much less a conclusion.

I'm looking forward to my next tryst with Neil Gaiman, if only because I'm positive (or at least hoping) that I'll enjoy it more than this load of marbles.

Related review: Stardust - Neil Gaiman

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