Sunday, September 18, 2011

R.I.P. Group Read: Fragile Things 2

The Hidden Chamber

Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire

The Flints of Memory Lane

Closing Time

from: Gaiman, Neil. Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. New York: William Morrow, 2006.

Here we are already, the second week of Carl's R.I.P. group read. This time, because, while listening to the audiobook the first week, I'd found that hidden story in the Introduction a bit confusing, I decided to read the print versions first and then listen to Gaiman read them himself. Although I have, many times, started a book in audio form and then switched to print, I've never done what I'm doing with this one (both listened to and read the whole book during the same time period, although there are quite a few books that I read years ago and that I've enjoyed "rereading" recently in audiobook form). I'd highly recommend it, especially with a short story/poetry collection such as this one if you, like me, are not someone who typically reads either short stories or poems.

I like reading first and then listening better than listening and then reading. I've toyed with the idea of reading and listening simultaneously, but that seems like a waste of time, since I read more quickly than audiobooks do (although yea to Audible for now giving us the option of speeding up the reading), and I like to spend the time I'm listening to books doing something else like working out or folding laundry. I can't put my finger on why, but listening to the stories after reading them makes them come more alive somehow, and it provides me with the opportunity to think more about them and to pick up on things I missed while reading. Of course, as I noted in my first group read post, it helps if Neil Gaiman is doing the reading.

I did go back to the Introduction and read the brief descriptions of this poem and three short stories before I read each one. There was no way I could remember everything Gaiman had said about them without doing so. Those introductions to each one also help me pick up on things. I'm so glad he included them. And now, on to my thoughts on each one:

The Hidden Chamber
We turned to the gothic in this week's readings, and Gaiman explains that he's always thought the story of Bluebeard to be the most gothic. I'd never thought of that, but he's right (is Gaiman ever wrong?). This poem is his own variant on that tale, full of the gothic and also the modern and contemporary. Yes, there are ghosts and secret chambers and mystery and lacy shifts, and there's love and physical pain and heartache. How does he do it in a mere five stanzas? This second poem of his makes me wish Gaiman would publish a whole collection of poems. That says something, because I'm one of those who typically shies away from poetry.

Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire
This was the perfect companion to The Castle of Otranto, which I'm also reading right now for the R.I.P. challenge. You can tell Gaiman was having such fun with this story, and it's very funny, although not in a laugh-out-loud sort of way. He takes the gothic and stands it on its head. Or does he take reality and stand it on its head? You'll have to read it and decide for yourself. Listening to it, for some reason, I appreciated the brilliance of it more than I did reading it.

The Flints of Memory Lane
He plays with reality and story-telling in this one. I think we're meant to believe it's a true story, his one "real life ghost story." But is it? With Neil Gaiman you can never quite be sure. Still, it's creepy. It's the sort of thing that happens to a kid that scares him to death and that is forever told again and again at parties and in bars and to children of his own when they ask for a "real life ghost story." He does a wonderful job of telling the story the way the mind works, which is to say that it's not always linear, skipping around, adding details almost as afterthoughts. I loved this one.

Closing Time
This was my least favorite of the four, which was kind of sad, because it had originally been meant to be "an M.R. James-style ghost story" (I worship James), but he says the finished work owes more to the strange tales of Robert Aickman. I've never read Aickman, so I wouldn't know, but I found this one had less of the dream-like quality I've come to associate with Gaiman. It was cruder, and the ending was confusing, not in his typical imaginative way but in a way that didn't work for me. I'm not quite sure why, because Gaiman often writes as if he wants the reader to draw her own conclusions, but I didn't want him to do that this time. Maybe I just didn't like my own conclusions. Still, even the worst of Gaiman is better than most people's best, so I can't say I didn't like it, just that it was different, quite Stephen King-ish, actually (without, of course, drawing the conclusions for the reader the way King usually does).

There you have it. Now I'm off to read what others had to say.


Kailana said...

I actually wish I had an audio copy of this collection. I think I would benefit a lot from being able to listen to them as well as read them...

Jodie Robson said...

Forbidden Brides is glorious, isn't it, such fun! And I liked the playing with the true/imaginary story in The Flints of Memory Lane, and his insistence that it's not a proper story. I've never been able to get on with Stephen King (maybe something to do with being English? all the North Americans I know seem to "get" him), so I can't compare, but I'm interested that you suggest it. I don't know Aickman at all, but might try some just to see. I did think it was quite sucessfully Jamesian, though.

Anonymous said...

I also wish that Neil Gaiman had a collection of poems. Thus far I've loved both of the ones that we've read!

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't that be great if Gaiman had a collection of poems? I think it would be the only book of poetry that I would actually sit down and read for enjoyment. :)

Alison said...

A-ha! I think you've helped me figure out what made me so irked by "Closing Time"... Gaiman does often leave the reader to draw her own conclusions, but my personal conclusions are always informed by what I've found in the story. In this one, I've found either too much or not enough to form a coherent conclusion, and I have been unnecessarily antsy about it. I think I just need another good story with proper conclusions to fix this!

Carl V. Anderson said...

"antsy" is a good description Alison of they way Closing Time makes me feel. I like it because of that but it is more unsettling than some of Gaiman's other stories.

I haven't listened to the Gaiman stories back to back after reading them, but I did read this collection when it first came out and then about a year later bought the audio and you are right in that the reading really does make the stories come alive. In this particular case I think it is the combination of the author reading them, because he knew how they sounded in his mind when he wrote them, and the fact that the author is also a skilled narrator.

I do believe Flints is meant to be interpreted as a true story and that is isn't just Gaiman making something up. Not that it isn't possible for him to do so, but it would be something I could see him publishing "as is" if it wasn't what it is said to be. Of course it could just be his brilliant way of making us actually enjoy what is just a fragment of a story.

Forbidden Brides is great fun. Like I said in my post it is one of my favorite short stories, not just for this author or this collection but of all the short stories I've read. It speaks to the kid in me that grew up thrilled with ghost stories and I find it clever and fun as an adult. It isn't laugh out loud funny, as you mentioned, except of course when the creatures are asking for brides and also want some of those bread rolls, or whatever it is they ask for.

litlove said...

I mentioned Neil Gaiman as a possible choice for the RIP, and I really do want to read him soon. Lovely review as ever, Emily, and definitely puts Gaiman on the list of strong possibilities. (Although the book I own by him is Stardust.)

Carl V. Anderson said...

Stardust is a wonderful book, litlove. Not necessarily R.I.P. material but I consider it a good autumn or spring read, so go for it if you are so inspired.

Emily Barton said...

Kailana, save the audio for another time and enjoy "rereading" it that way.

GeraniumCat, I can completely understand why someone might not get into Stephen King. He's wonderfully imaginative, but he often resorts to gratuitous violence. He's very good at writing about what it's like to be a young boy, though, so I think that's why this story reminded me of him.

BWAP, yes, I've loved both the poems, too, and am actually looking forward to reading more from him.

Dooliterature, me too! (Although, I have to remind myself that I am learning to read books of poetry for fun. I keep forgetting that, because for so long, I didn't).

Alison, "antsy" is right. Although, you know, the more I read about it and think about it, the more I find myself mulling it over, which leads me to think it's a better story than my original reaction would have one believe.

Carl, I can absolutely see why Forbidden Brides is one of your all-time favorite short stories. I do hope that there are English teachers out there who are having their students read it in conjunction with the likes of The Turn of the Screw, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights.

Litlove, I haven't read Stardust, but I'm sure it's good. A really good Gaiman R.I.P. choice would be The Graveyard Book (my favorite of what I've read, I think. It's very hard to choose!).

Anonymous said...

I have to agree and say that I think you put in to words the biggest thing I loved the most about "Closing Time" - we, as readers, are left to draw our own conclusions, but some of those conclusions we draw may not be ones we like. I think this is what made this story so horrifying for me, as it is often what people do to each other (I imagine the horror in this story to come from other people less so than the supernatural) that I find scariest.

I've never read Castle of Otranto but it's been recommended to me for years. I think that, given how often I'm seeing the names float around, I may just have to pick up both this and The Bloody Chamber as soon as possible! Thanks for such great thoughts, and I can't wait to hear what you have to say next week.

-- Chelsea

Emily Barton said...

Chelsea, yes, that discomfort, I'm learning, seems to be a trademark of Gaiman's that hasn't been stressed as much in other works of his I've read. I need to read The Bloody Chamber, too.