Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fragile Things Group Read: Four Fragile Things

Continuing on (and featuring another of the covers that this collection has been published with) ...

(Please know that there might be minor SPOILERS in this post.)

First, I would like to say that I did, in fact, go back and read The Fairy Reel out loud this week and it made a difference. I understood it a bit better and now I want to listen to Neil himself read it as well.


And I also read The Hidden Chamber out loud and I still didn't entirely understand it. Originally I didn't really remember the tale of Bluebeard though. And then I went and looked up the Bluebeard story and it made a lot of things clearer once I remembered what it was about. The ghosts are the Bluebeard character's previous wives and the piece is addressed to the current (and final?) one. It's strange to have such a violent man speaking with such a calm and rational voice -- even setting free a butterfly that has strayed into the house. But then you realize that it's not a calm voice but a cold and creepy one. And that he actually tells the woman that it would be best if she ran before ... well ... ::cue finger across the throat motion::


I think I was tricked by this story again. You start by reading the writings of a somewhat shoddy author who seems to have an incredibly over-active imagination and who writes mainly in clichés of the horror genre. Then you see the author's own life interspersed -- and it's a life of clichés and ridiculously horrifying happenings! This was one of Neil's early stories, one that was tucked away in the attic for years. Should it have stayed in the attic? I don't think so. Though it's not a brilliant gem, it's amusing and is just the slightest bit thought-provoking. And I smiled a bit when the fictional author mentioned the novel I am currently still reading, The Mysteries of Udolpho (seriously, it's been over two weeks and I'm barely a third through). If this sort of novel is his reality, I truly feel for him! And, oh, the Poe! There are at least a couple of references to different Poe pieces in the story. Yay! My Poe Fridays have finally paid off.


In the introduction, Neil tells us that this story "had the unsatisfying advantage of being perfectly true". I think it's perfectly satisfying because I don't believe a story needs any length or depth to be affecting, only a sense of personality and tangibility. And this, his true ghostly encounter, is a moment that he relates perfectly, that sends cold tingly sensations down your arms and spine. Are there many things creepier than a malevolent gypsy apparition?


This is another ghost story that is told in the first person. I have to admit that, just like the first time I read it, I came out of it not quite knowing what happened. Who was the storyteller? Why did he draw a door with a red knocker? What exactly happened to the old man and his brothers? What was the deal with their father and his devilish "playhouse"? How could they be ghosts when he, at least, was still alive many years later? I'm hoping that someone else really understood this one because I just can't wrap my brain around it! It's very atmospheric and spooky but also a bit unsatisfying -- like some of the story was missing. I do feel a bit better, though, knowing that Neil kind of feels the same way (from his web journal, March 2003) --
"Michael Chabon's McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales is out in the shops as well. I'm less happy with "Closing Time", which is a ghost story, perhaps, about childhood. It's not a bad story, but it does, on rereading, feel more like a preliminary sketch for something, rather than the thing itself."
Heading home after last call,


  1. These stories certainly sound intriguing - I now have my second pure Gaiman book, Neverwhere to read at some stage - think I need to read more of his longer novels before I tackle the short stories.

  2. I only skimmed your post, since I may read these at some point and am very spoiler-sensitive! I've really enjoyed Gaiman's novels, but I'm not always a huge short story fan, so I'm not sure how these would work for me.

  3. Okay, I thought I understood the last story, but now that I have read a couple different posts, I am not thinking I am right any more... I think I have to go read the story again!

  4. I would definitely be interested in seeing what Gaiman could do with Closing Time if he considers it a preliminary sketch for something. I liked it quite well as it was, but I'll never say no to a little more Gaiman, that's for sure. :)

  5. You ought to hear Gaiman read The Hidden Chamber. He does so with the calm, rational voice you mention and that makes it all the more chilling.

    I would disagree with you about The Forbidden Brides, I do think it is a brilliant gem. Not only does it show how terrific a grasp Gaiman has on the tropes of gothic horror, but it is also an interesting study on the idea of being a writer and what a person dreams they would write vs. what they might actually be better at and ultimately enjoy more.

    Your description of Flints, "that sends cold tingly sensations down your arms and spine", is so true. You can almost picture yourself having a similar experience and being chilled to the bone by it.

    I didn't find the whole drawing of the knocker that mysterious because the way I read the story is that he drew the picture after the adventure. He goes to steal the picture after the school is closed then recounts an event that happened to him while the school was open, the inference being that the drawing was a result of what had happened to him. It would tend to stick in his head, after all. LOL!

    It is a mysterious ending because we are not sure if the boys got out and were the boys referred to at the end or if they were just the sons of the father who had lived at the house originally and was doing nefarious things in the playhouse. But that is part of what makes it extra creepy, the not knowing quite for sure. It isn't perfect, but I feel shook up by it every time I read it which makes it perfectly satisfying for me. I like it when author's can stumble a bit in execution and still deliver on the emotional level. I'd love to see what Gaiman could build from this. Or would I? *shiver*

  6. I think that Forbidden Brides would have been the most fun to write. Getting to deliberately write something that satirizes itself... I can picture writing it while being all "Buahahahaha!"

  7. I'm maybe beginning to understand Closing Time a little better now that I've read others' thoughts, but I found it as confusing as you did.

    I loved that he mentioned The Castle of Otranto in Seven Brides, because I'm reading that for the R.I.P. challenge. And the Poe references were great. I'm very glad the story didn't stay in the attic.

  8. I meant "Forbidden Brides" not "Seven Brides." Confusing my story titles here!

  9. Tracy - I read this collection as my first Gaiman but I think that I like the stories better now that I'm more familiar with his writing style and subject matter and all of that. I think you should wait too.

    Erin - I think you will be hit or miss on these but if you like his novels, you should at least try them!

    Kailana - I think I'm wrong too. ;)

    Dooliterature - Agreed! I think it would be a ridiculously dark story but it seems like there is so much to explore.

    Carl - I might have to get the audio of these stories and at least listen to some of them! And true, Forbidden Brides is a smart story. I just didn't love it. And I think that your order for Closing Time makes much more sense! I thought he took the picture and then met the boys which made no sense at all. I'll have to go back and read the story again, paying attention to time frames. A really interesting group of stories this week!

    Bookswithoutanypictures - That would definitely be fun. :)

    Emily - Well, I'm glad I wasn't alone! The Castle of Otranto was so hilariously awful. I wonder what you'll think!