Monday, 23 March 2009

Short Story Weekends

The novels and children's fiction of Neil Gaiman I have read and would re-read and re-read again in an instant; his short stories, however, I have dipped into and back out again at random. Fragile Things has sat, a beautiful hardback that Gareth gave me for Christmas in 2006, (oh why oh why did I not have Neil sign it too when we went to The Graveyard Book reading and signing on Hallowe'en?) on the bedside table and the bookshelves in Glasgow and then in London and now lies beside me. I also have the book on audio with Neil Gaiman's own dulcet (and even sultry) tones reading; he makes a great reader and his voice has the rhythm and cadences to read his own eerie words, obviously he knows where to emphasise and where to pause and where to create suspense. For the Once Upon a Time Short Story Weekends challenge I thought that Fragile Things would be a perfect choice as Gaiman often mixes and blends elements of fairy tale, folklore, mythology and fantasy into his work. Besides, I am going home to Glasgow later this week for a long weekend and Gaiman as a travelling companion on my ipod nano will be better than the weight of the hardback in the hand luggage (along with the other book or two that I'll be packing). So, that was settled and I myself settled down to some reading along with his reading aloud.

Before you even reach Neil Gaiman's short stories in the collections, there is his introduction. No writer writes an introduction like Gaiman does: his introductions -mini introuductions to each and every short story- are as good as the stories themselves. It is joyful to read about the origins and inspirations of each story and the anecdotes provided about them. Gaiman's introductions are full of surprises: in Smoke and Mirrors Gaiman includes a story not included in the volume in the intoduction instead! He cheekily writes, "So for all of you who do read intoductions, here is the story I did not write [as a gift for friends who were marrying]" and then follows "The Wedding Present", which is a wonderfully creepy foreshadowing.

One of the things about Neil Gaiman that stands out, for me, is his love for writing and his dedication to his fans (what other writer spends hours at signings, until every last fan has been seen?) His introductions, his audio narrative of his work, his blog ... all are proof of this.

The first story in the volume is "A Study in Emerald" a pastiche of Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet where the rational world of Sherlock Holmes meets the irrational world of H.P. Lovecraft. Not having read Lovecraft I cannot say how faithful a depiction of his fictional universe, Cthulhu Mythos, Gaiman provides but his loyalty to -and cleaver tweaking of- 1880s Baker Street, London is concrete. I read A Study in Scarlet last month and it was fresh in my mind so I could easily determine Gaiman's influence and where he deviated from the original story into the myhthological universe set in London, England (as opposed to New England in Lovecraft), now known as Albion, ruled by the acient deities, The Great Old Ones, headed by the alien Queen Victoria. Having not, as yet, read all of the Sherlock Holmes volumes I did not fully grasp the twist ending but merely guessed at it ... having had my guess confirmed I can only marvel at the cleverness of Gaiman. I greatly admire literary borrowings and pastiches when they are done well and Gaiman excels at his attempt; "A Study in Emerald" rightly won the Hugo Award in 2004 for best short story.


Carl V. said...

"No writer writes an introduction like Gaiman does: his introductions -mini introductions to each and every short story- are as good as the stories themselves."

You are right on there! It is amazing to read about what inspired each story. He is such an amazing reader.

A Study in Emerald really is brilliant, especially if one has read any Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft. I highly recommend doing so, by the way. Lovecraft tells some pretty good old-timey creepy stories.

Nymeth said...

I loved this story too! I've been meaning to get the anthology it was written for, Shadows over Baker Street, for years.

Paperback Reader said...

It sounds like a great anthology.

Doigy said...
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