Sunday, 30 October 2011

Fragile Things group read - week 8

Cape Wrath, Scotland
Over the past eight weeks I've found the group read and the attention we've paid to the stories in Fragile Things immensely rewarding, even though my comments about individual stories wouldn't necessarily always suggest it. After posting, I've gone back over and over, as we've discussed them, and seen, or had pointed out, new elements that I hadn't considered.  Even when I haven't liked the story - or someone else hasn't liked it - there have been new insights; in fact, some of the most rewarding discussion has coalesced around stories that have caused offence.

I've also become convinced that Gaiman is an even better writer than I gave him credit for, and that although some stories look comparatively slight, there may be much more to them than I've seen at first glance. There are one or two exceptions: "Strange Little Girls" struck me as not entirely successful, for instance, although it was an example of the series of vignettes that builds to a greater whole. We seem to have been almost universally agreed that "Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot" was a much more successful version of this kind of story.

My comments on the stories are going to be brief - I was going to just say what I thought in the comments on Carl's post, because I'm having RSI trouble today, but then I decided there was too much I wanted to say!

"The Day the Saucers Came"
A nice little poem, thoughtful and effective - "the day / Animals spoke to us in Assyrian..." - full of lovely images. And containing an essential truth about the relativeness of everything, how one's own feelings can achieve such magnitude that everything just pales into insignificance. It doesn't have to be selfishness, there are times when self-centredness is natural and even appropriate.

This is a lovely, traditionally conceived story, and another that could have been an incidental story to American Gods (how I love that Gaiman keeps creating in that world, like ours but just slightly off-kilter). You can sort of see where it's going from the start, but that just adds to the pleasure. And it proves - if it were needed, that Gaiman can write the purely joyous in short story form, as well as novel-length. Knowing the story's history from the introduction, you can't help but see it as a wonderful a expression of love for his daughter, it simply sings out of it. Gaiman says it's an R.A. Lafferty story. I don't know Lafferty at all, though this persuades me that I should. For me, it was another that reminded me of my other American god (if we count Gaiman as one, despite his Englishness), James Thurber.

"Inventing Aladdin"
 The Introduction says everything I could want to about this last poem - stories have to start somewhere. And many of the stories that are familiar to us, and that we re-work in various ways, originated with people who had a different world-view. It's hard now to imagine that Scheherazade might literally be saving her life with every hanging ending, every tantalising beginning. Even so, stories are still of immense importance, a fundamental part of our culture - the very fact that we continue to re-tell old stories is the proof.

"Monarch of the Glen"
I don't think anyone can have failed to spot that I regard American Gods as pretty much the pinnacle of story-telling. It is, quite literally, the book I wish I could have written. So a further installment in Shadow's journey (and I started missing him pretty much the instant the book ended), and one set in the Old World, is like birthday and Christmas rolled into one. It took me straight back to exploring the northernmost limits of the Scottish mainland, what different country that is, wild and treeless, and full of Norse names. The days when the haar (mist) never lifts, and you can imagine Naflgar, the ship made of dead men's fingernails, drawing up on the windswept strand - oh, the desolation of those men doomed to roam the seas for ever, you can feel the chill of the seaspray. (I've been reading of Ragnarök elsewhere this week, and it's on my mind...). Grendel's mother did much to exorcise the image I had of her from another retelling, which makes me like this version all the more. And Jennie is a delight.

I found "Monarch of the Glen" the perfect ending to the collection and to our group read. Huge thanks to Carl for being such a generous and attentive host. I'm already looking forward to the next one! But for now, I'm off to read what everyone else has to say on the last four stories.


  1. I'm so glad you went ahead and wrote your thoughts up, and I hope you are feeling better as the day rolls on.

    I too am very fond of American Gods. I count Shadow as one of my favorite characters in fiction and I really like, and like to dislike, many of the characters he encounters in that tale. This really is a great gift to have another Shadow story. And such a good long one too. I am amazed by how much folklore Gaiman brings into the novella. Every time I read this my mind goes off in a dozen different directions.

    Isn't it wild to think of being in a situation where your very life depended on being able to tell an interesting story and leave it at a point where the person wanted to come back tomorrow night to hear more? If that isn't a perfect analogy of the anxiety of a writer I don't know what is.

    Sunbird is so great, isn't it? Humor and some horror rolled into one with a lot of delightful dialogue moments.

    And love what you have to say about The Day the Saucers Came. It really is a fun poem and one that I enjoy every time I read or listen to it.

    Thank you so much for taking part in this read along. It was more fun than I thought it would be and I agree with you that we had as much fun discussing the stories we didn't like as those we did.

  2. I love your interpretation of "The Day the Saucers Came." When I read it, I felt like the narrator was a bit narcissistic in assuming that his ex was so obsessed with him and caught up in getting over him that she wouldn't even notice the zombie apocalypse. The larger point you brought up about relativity is quite nice.

  3. Oh yes, I don't see the narrator as narcissistic at all. I always assumed that the reason he found out that he, or she, didn't know anything about all the end of the world events was that they eventually did talk on the phone.

    Such a fun poem.

  4. Wasn't it great to end on such a high! Including a poem on why we tell stories :-)

  5. I really enjoyed this read-along. I am not sure I would have finished the book otherwise because I am so bad with reading short story collections...