12 January 2007

Sturdy writing in Fragile Things

I once again finished an impulse read, instead of focusing on my challenge books. I'm starting to pick up the pace on Team however, so I don't feel guilty. And Gaiman's writing is like the light to the moth for me; I just love the way he spins out a story.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman is a delightful cascade of both poetry and prose; and, as is rare with some authors, the poetry is neither contrived nor sloppy. Two stories in particular call out for attention: The Problem of Susan and The Monarch of the Glen. In Problem, Gaiman gives us a sample of all that is best about fan fiction, and spins out a tale of Susan, and how she spends her post-Narnia years. It is touchingly reverent and explains once of the difficulties I always had with Susan in the tales, wondering if she was a stand in for Judas, or if she was a placeholder for the non-believer. Gaiman handles her story with what feels like an accurate representation of how her life might have played out (with, I warn you, some elements unsuitable to the younger reader) and also adds in his own careful contribution of what life might be like for an old, proud woman who has experienced some extraordinary times.

Monarch, OTOH, concerns an character who is in most way's Susan's opposite: the wonderful, deep-unto-caverns shadow from American Gods which is a dear favorite of mine. If you like Norse mythology or Beowulf, and admire Gaiman's Arachne-like skill at weaving together the old folklores with a modern consciousness, you *must* read this. I am a wide reader about all things Norse, and even so was surprised and delighted to be introduced to a Hulder in the story, which was entirely new to me; and her character is so dear and touching, that even her scornful disappointment with Shadow is a monument of pitifulness. Bonus points to Gaiman for developing the character of Mr. Alice, from Keepsakes and Treasures, further in this story, also. (And after reading this, I was dying to know if the anonymous aide in Monarch was the same narrator as in Keepsakes; he is.)

As for the poetry, I delight in a well written verse but tend to most enjoy haiku and limericks; nothing too long and self-centered. Gaiman's poems twist and play with a theme delightfully and spin out a yarn until the threads remain, scintillating and microscopic for examination. Look closely at Locks, a poem about a father reading Goldilocks to his daughter, and it seems as though you can witness the scene, the bright young child tormenting her father with interruptions, the father enjoying the banter in spite of his attempts to keep the story moving, all while he ruminates over the different perspective he brings to the story from the vanatage point of age.

Check out Gaiman's audio excerpt on his website, the author's reading of his introduction.


Karen said...

Oooooh you've piqued my interest, Eva. I may have to check this out once I finish Born on a Blue Day!

Nathan Root said...

I am curious if you have read Grendel by John Gardner. I don't think I could analyze a book as well as you do, but I have read Grendel a few times and always enjoy the quick read and new perspective on Beowulf.

Ejly said...

Thanks for the recommendation Nathan! I have read Gardner's Grendel and enjoyed it very much. As a parent, you may also be interested in a recent adaptation of Beowulf for children: Beowulf: A New Telling by Robert Nye. I was delighted to be able to share a slightly bowdlerized classic with my children without fear that the gory scenes would give them nightmares.