Sunday, 18 September 2011

RIP VI: Fragile Things week 2

The second week of the Fragile Things group read has gone really well for me, I'm getting so much more out of the stories by reading them at such a slow pace. I usually rush at collections of stories and it doesn't do me or the book any favours, because I can't step back far enough to see each one as a single entity. This time I've read and re-read, and stopped to consider and, as a result, I have time to see far more in them than I do as a rule.

'The Hidden Chamber'
This is a nice little piece that evokes the Bluebeard story effectively, while at the same time lifting it out of the expected gothic realm. We anticipate all the trappings and are instead offered washing machines and other mundane objects (which might nevertheless be rather useful for disposing of unwanted traces). Hidden chambers have developed resonances since Gaiman wrote the story, and we've become more aware that even the most prosaic suburban settings might house hidden horrors. Gaiman's known that all the time, of course, always having seen the skull beneath the skin.

'Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire'
My favourite of this week's stories is a real gem - I love the fantastically overwritten sections with their "little" jokes, several of which I'm still chuckling over. This narrative-within-narrative is like a series of Monty Python sketches, always spilling over into farce no matter how hard the young writer tries to avoid it. Meanwhile, the "outer" story, tackling its subject with a subtler humour, reminds me of Thurber's fairytales, and I can think of no higher recommendation:
Strange, scuttling things gibbered and cheetled in the black drapes at the end of the room, and high in the gloomy oak beams, and behind the wainscoting, but they made no answer. He had expected none.
I get a frisson of delight from "cheetled"...

The two threads really flow into each other with the interjection of the raven (and don't you just love the raven?) but the story's construction remains most unusual, with two streams of "reality" which raise all sorts of questions, such as why the families were cursed in the first place, or what the "unusual circumstances" which brought Ethel the maid to the house were. I could happily have read more of this inspired lunacy, but it's a wise author who knows when enough is enough. Apparently, he shortened the title to the one given here...

'The Flints of Memory Lane'
I do like the way Gaiman resolutely keeps to something that's not story-shaped. He could have made it much more so but, as it is, it reminds us that we do from time to time see things we can't readily explain - and afterwards we may not even be sure how much of what we've seen is real. Memory is a tricksy thing at best, and if we start to question the detail of what we saw, we may end up questioning the whole experience. In such circumstances it's best not to try to make too much sense out of it, to force it into a story mould.

'Closing Time'
I've always liked the stories of M.R. James, even though they do rather fall into the category of "bad things happening for no reason" that I complained about in my last post. It's partly because they also follow the rather successful formula of everyone sitting around (in a club, or after dinner) and one speaker relating a tale, a device also used successfully by Agatha Christie and Robertson Davies - there's something about the gathering of people which draws you into the circle, yet releases you at the end to go out into the crisp, cold night and home to comfort with the other listeners - the stories are made doubly safe by that extra distancing. So this rather nasty little story reaches us at a remove, while following the proper Jamesian conventions of the club setting, the mysterious stranger and the lingering doubt about what exactly has taken place.


  1. I am enjoying reading all the different opinions on these stories. One blogger really didn't like one of the stories, for example, but then another blogger loved it. It's fun!

  2. Forbidden Brides was a fun story. I laughed aloud several times while reading it. I thought the main character was so angsty, which made his writing even funnier. I've been reading the stories and writing up my posts while drinking my Sunday morning tea. It's nice to have them fresh in my head while reading everyone's thoughts on them...

  3. I really liked what you had to say about the poem! I guess my mind didn't automatically drift to suburban (even though it should have been more obvious to me, with the washing machine reference, haha), but I like the idea of this being a modern-day take on the Bluebeard story and the kind of evil that lurks behind seemingly innocent facades.

  4. "which might nevertheless be rather useful for disposing of unwanted traces"

    Indeed! Good call. I hadn't even thought much about the modernism in the story at all, it just sort of washed over me, pardon the pun. Now I'll have to go back and read it again. Oh darn. LOL! ;)

    "Forbidden Brides" really is wonderfully fun, isn't it? Reading your comments remind me of just how much I too wish we could find out more about the characters in the story he is writing, as well as the characters in the author's world. This makes me wish Gaiman would write a full blown gothic novel with all the trappings and his trademark sense of humor. That would be so much fun.

    What would also be fun it either a live action or stop-motion film of an expanded version of this story. There would be wonderful sets and costumes. Stop-motion makes me equate Nightmare Before Christmas with this, and also The Corpse Bride, in that horror tropes are part of the day to day lives of the characters in those delightful films.

    "inspired lunacy" is right, and it is brilliantly done.

    I too am glad that Gaiman didn't make The Flints of Memory Lane any more than it was. He didn't theorize or postulate about anything, he just put it out there and let it stand as is. It is one of the many reasons I actually think the story works.

    I mentioned on my site, I believe, that I really do need to read more M.R. James. Love this:

    "there's something about the gathering of people which draws you into the circle, yet releases you at the end to go out into the crisp, cold night and home to comfort with the other listeners - the stories are made doubly safe by that extra distancing"

    That expresses it beautifully and perfectly.

  5. Kailana, I like that the different responses keep pushing me to justify my own :-)

    books...Forbidden Brides makes me smile as soon as I start to think about it, I think the humour is absolutely delicious.

    dooliterature, I haven't always liked Gaiman's poems, but the two we've read so far impress me more and more as I think about them. I'm going to read his poems much more attentively in future.

    Carl, I love the idea of a film of Forbidden Brides! And I was saying last night that I should watch something for RIP VI (last year we watched Let The Right One In, but not until 31 October itself, so I couldn't include it) but you've reminded me that I've never watched The Corpse Bride. I shall do so immediately! I might have a binge on Gaiman films too.

  6. The Corpse Bride is a really fun film. I am so fond of stop motion animation. The love and passion that goes into the painstakingly slow process of making films like that is evident in every frame.

  7. first comment doesn't seem to have "taken," so I will try again (I can't remember what I said first go round, so I'll just start over). Forbidden Brides was my favorite this week, too, and I also like James for that "everyone sitting around telling stories" setting he likes. In fact, isn't there a James story that involves a hand in a boarding school or something? Anyway, reading everyone's comments on Closing Time has helped me appreciate it more. I particularly like the idea that maybe the story is supposed to have holes in it, not to make sense when given some thought, just like the other urban legends in the tale.

  8. I think I've read that James "hand" story you refer to. Or at least it sounds really familiar.

  9. I am a fan of Gaiman's and hope to read more of his work. I am a fan of short stoires, so this may be something I'd enjoy. Nice post!