Fragile Things

fragilethingsTitle: Fragile Things

Author: Neil Gaiman

Summary: Let me tell you stories of the months of the year, of ghosts and heartache, of dread and desire. Of after-hours drinking and unanswered phones, of good deeds and bad days, of trusting wolves and how to talk to girls.

There are stories within stories, whispered in the quiet of the night, shouted above the roar of the day, and played out between lovers and enemies, strangers and friends. But all, all are fragile things, made of just 26 letters arranged and rearranged to form tales and imaginings which will dazzle your senses, haunt your imagination and move you to the very depths of your soul.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: I love short stories. I mean i really love short stories. So i’m not giving this book two stars lightly. But this books took me over a month to read; i wasn’t excited to pick it up to carry on reading. It just… wasn’t that good. It wasn’t all bad, either, though.

I really loved Other People, it was by far and away the best story in the book. It immediately started with a hook and ended with a twist that made the entire story make sense. That is the perfect kind of short story to me. It packed so much into barely 5 pages of words.

Another notably enjoyable story was Keepsakes and Treasures, because the characters and the back story were so developed–i would love to read more about Mr Smith and Mr Alice. Harlequin Valentine was interesting, another story with a twist. I thought the idea behind How to Talk to Girls at Parties was brilliant, but was uninspired by the execution. And of course, having read and loved American Gods, i really enjoyed The Monarch of the Glen.

But. But to be honest, most of the other stories were mediocre, or half-hearted, or slightly interesting but not developed enough. October in the Chair, for example. I liked both the idea of the months of the year as characters–the relationships and banter there–and the tale of the two boys, one alive and one dead. What i didn’t like were those two ideas in the same story. They detracted from each other, for me. Either focus on why the months of the year are telling stories around the fire and what their meeting is really about, of focus on the boys and their relationship and the meaning there. Don’t throw in as much weird shit as you can and call it entertaining–it has to mean something, too.

Honestly, i just don’t think short stories are Gaiman’s forte. Short stories are a different beast. As Stephen King aptly put it:

A short story is a different thing all together – a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.

I did not enjoy these kisses; too much tongue, not enough pressure. Short stories have to punch a lot harder in a lot fewer words, and i think Gaiman shines more in novels. I absolutely adored American Gods, and enjoyed The Ocean at the End of the Lane. But i have to say i’ll likely avoid his short story collections in the future. Which is a very sad, telling thing for a lover of short stories to say.

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TTT: Film and TV

TTTThis was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. I love books, and I love films and TV shows, so imagining some of my favourite books in that media should be loads of fun. Right? Except it wasn’t so much. It’s not that it wasn’t fun, it’s just that, actually, there are a lot of books i’ve read that I don’t think would translate well to the screen. That a lot of the things I loved about the books would be lost. Some subtly, or a character’s inner conflict, or the underlying meaning of the entire book. So, it ended up being quite difficult to choose 10 books, to be honest.

This entire list also comes with a proviso: I would want to see these books made into films or TV shows that I would have creative control over. I would want them on the screen like they are in my head. I would get to decide what parts got left out and any details that would be changed. So often film adaptations let me down, but if this is my top ten—it’s my top ten.

American Gods – This is already getting a pilot for a TV series, but as far as i’m aware there is no cast, no date, and no guarantee of a full series. But yes, i’d have a lot of fun making this into a TV show. Actually seeing Wednesday and his merry band of ancient gods.

The Night Circus – The rights have been bought to adapt this into a film, but it doesn’t appear to be moving anywhere. I would be more than happy to be brought on as director. The visuals in this book are extraordinary, and I can imagine them working for the screen incredibly well.

The Girl with all the Gifts – This kind of plot is exactly what the horror/zombie film genre needs. Also that ending. Yes. It’s not even this specific book that i’d (necessarily) love to see on the big screen, but a film that takes the well-worn genre and adds some twists, approaches it from a new angle and generally does something different.

Apathy and Other Small Victories – Although this adaptation would need a voice over, I wouldn’t mind, because it would be hilarious. I’d even allow the narrator to break the fourth wall and address the audience directly. It would be cliché, but clichéd perfection.

The Vesuvius Club – Considering Mark Gatiss has written for both film and TV, it’s not a big surprise to find his book on this list. It’s just… perfectly set up to be a film (film series, even, with the two sequels). Imagine an Edwardian debonair James Bond-esque character with questionable morals and an even more questionable sexuality. Add hijinks, a sex club and an potential apocalypse.

All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye – I picked this book because it’s my favourite, but really, any Brookmyre book. He has about 18 of them, you could close your eyes and blindly grasp at them and you’d snag a good one. The characters, the action, the plot… it’s all so larger than life, it’s so easy to image watching it on screen.

Tiny Deaths – I’d love to see these short stories adapted into a series of TV programmes. They all focus on death as the subject, but are so wide-ranging and interesting. It’s also something I can see going beyond the book, with more writers and more stories.

It – Okay, this has already been adapted into a film. Both the book and the film were a huge part of my childhood. And guess what? I’ve always preferred the book. There is something in the book that the film just fails to capture (as most book-to-film adaptations do). From my youth i’ve always wanted to write a screenplay for a new adaptation, ergo, it makes my list.

Plugged – This book in another that I can so easily see working well as a film. It’s not got a huge amount of depth to it, it’s a more typical action-driven story with some real characters and some interesting details and settings along the way. A classic action comedy.

Apartment 16 – Really now, I love the horror. This book has some great and varied aspects that could work so well on screen. Such creepy, subtle shiver down the spine moments, as well as some more straightforward gruesome creatures. And an apartment building setting; corridor after corridor, door after door, a slow creaking lift… it’s just perfect.

TTT: Character Spin Offs

TTTWanting more from a book, a book that leaves the reader craving more, is a sign of a great book for me. And for me that will most often come in the form of characters. Characters make or break books as far as i’m concerned, and characters that I love or hate and want more of, will always make a book. These are some of the most intriguing characters i’d love to read more about in some capacity.

1. Zellaby and Lord Henry from The Midwich Cuckoos and The Picture of Dorian Gray, respectively.
This a towfer, but it’s also something i’ve wanted for a long time. A book entirely about Zellaby and Lord Henry sitting down over a pot of tea and talking philosophically. I want it so much, one day, I may just write it myself.

2. The women from The Godfather.
As much as I enjoyed this book, the sexism made me rage. All I wanted was a book from the female characters’ POVs, essentially showing that they were the ones really running the show. That they were so in control, they could pull the men’s strings without the men even realising it.

3. The ‘kraken’ (because they’re aren’t actually called that) from The Kraken Wakes.
I like stories where the villains have their own, valid, motivations. When it’s not as simple as good and evil, when there is grey area. And in books like that—like The Kraken Wakes—i find myself wanting to know more about the other side of the story.

4. Wednesday from American Gods.
I just found him immensely interesting. How in control, self-assured and mysterious he was. He was weaving this plot, knowing where all the pieces were and guiding them into the places he needed them to be. I would love to have experienced that from his point of view. Also, I just generally want more of him.

5. Clarisse McClellan from Fahrenheit 451.
This peculiar young girl who effortlessly helps turn Guy Montag’s life upside down. She’s in, what, two or three scenes early in the book and then she disappears. We never really find out much about her or what happens to her, but I would very much like to.

6. The deaf-mute in a top hat from Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.
My favourite line in the entire story:
“An instant later, a silk hat materialised in the air beside me, considerably down and to the left, and my special, only technically unassigned cohort grinned up at me – for a moment, I rather thought he was going to slip his hand into mine.”
How could I not want, just, more of this man?

7. The Triffids from The Day of The Triffids.
Another, perhaps, misunderstood evil creature. Though they did plant themselves (a pun! Ha) on Earth and lay in wait for years before striking when the human race was at its weakest, so maybe not so misunderstood. Still, I love an interesting, complex, plant-based villain. I’d love to read their take over of Earth from their point of view.

8. Tim Vale from One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night and Be My Enemy.
Brookmyre is so bloody good at characters, even his secondary, supporting, fucking fleeting characters are so rich. I’d take more of any of them, really. But Mr Vale… a “security expert”… his back story is just dripping with potential, and I am more than eager to read about it. Also not impossible that he could, in theory, get his own book…

9. The house from The Haunting of Hill House.
I can include inanimate objects on this list, right? Though, ‘inanimate’ might not be a word that describes this house. The mystery surrounding it, the horrors it has contained. I want to experience that with the house, too, not only its inhabitants. Would it be less scary? More? Would it answer my questions, or raise further ones? I don’t mind what the answers to these questions are, but i’d be fascinated to find out.

10. IT from IT.
This villain I would just want to know more about. Its supernatural nature is evident, but no solid answers on what it is or where it is from are ever answered, only that it has been living in, feeding from and influencing the inhabitants of the town for hundreds of years. This is one of my favourite books, and it’s already pretty darn long, but I would welcome more.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

oateotlTitle: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman

Summary: This is what he remembers, as he sits by the ocean at the end of the lane:

A dead man on the back seat of the car, and warm milk at the farmhouse; An ancient little girl, and an old woman who saw the moon being made; A beautiful housekeeper with a monstrous smile; And dark forces woken that were best left undisturbed.

These are memories hard to believe, waiting at the edges of things. The recollections of a man who thought he was lost but is now, perhaps, remembering a time when he was saved…

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I have only read one Neil Gaiman book before, American Gods, and i really enjoyed it. I didn’t know much about Gaiman’s other books, or his general writing style, so i still didn’t know what to expect from this book. Now i’ve read it, i can say i still don’t know what to expect for the next one.

I loved the fantasy aspect. The Hempstock family, their other-worldliness and mystery as well as the monsters, Ursula Monkton and the Varmints. I wanted to know more about them, even if the things i found out only left me with more questions. I loved all three Hempstocks, and maybe especially Lettie. The end then, though quite a shock, was simultaneously the best and worst part of the book.

The narrator is not named, and most of the book is told from the point of view of him as an adult remembering the events of when he was seven. I liked how this allowed for the seven year old perspective, but with adult reflections of what was happening and what it meant. I loved how he just accepted the Hempstocks and their strange abilities, as any self-respecting seven year old should. I loved hearing about his life and, most especially, about his love of reading (do people who love reading ever get tired of reading about characters who love reading? I don’t think so).

Now, the things i didn’t like. First of all, the narrator’s family’s “financial troubles”. They claim to be struggling so much that the mother has to get a part time job. They’re struggling so much that they offer rent and board to women to watch the kids for a few days a week. They’re struggling so much they have a couple come in to do the gardening and cleaning. This is not struggling, this is middle class. And the privilege that was not being checked throughout the entire book goaded my annoyance every time it was mentioned.

The only other thing that really bothered me, didn’t really bother me. It was just… potential. I think the book has more. I never felt the narrative was pulling me anywhere. There was nothing i was really wondering, no place i was waiting to get to. There were several small, and quickly remedied plot points, but no over-arcing plot stringing them together. Then i read the questions to the author at the end of the book, and this fact only made more sense. Gaiman said he wrote this without knowing what was going to happen. He said he was writing with a limited view as to what was to happen. He said that the twist at the end caught him by as much surprise as it does the reader. And really, that style of writing really shows in this book. It meanders, it plods along, it takes a few twists, but it doesn’t wrap up nicely or have running themes or motifs, and it lacks a lot because of that, for me.

For a long way through the book i was hoping it would be left open at the end, as to whether the story that was being told actually happened or was all the imagination of a seven-year-old boy. And the idea is touched upon, with Old Mrs Hempstock pointing out that no two people will ever remember events the same. But in the end it was definitely left more on the ‘it did happen’ side, with only the idea that maybe it didn’t happen exactly as we’d been told.

I did enjoy this book, and very much look forward to reading more Gaiman in future; having read American Gods, i know he can do better.

American Gods

Title: American Gods.

Author: Neil Gaiman.

Summary: Days before his release from prison, Shadows wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.

Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm or preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: Gaiman himself sums up this book adequately in one word in the introduction: meandering. The actual plot can be described quickly and simply: Man gets caught up in Gods going to war. But it’s the details and intricacies, the dozens of characters and Gaiman’s meandering that give the book its length, and its life.

I liked this book the same way i liked The Night Circus; because of the details. The kind of details each book used are different, though. While The Night Circus detailed the physical and atmospheric world of the circus, American Gods details the characters, their emotions and their motivations.

For the most part of the book we follow Shadow as he follows Wednesday, road tripping across the United States, attempting to recruit ‘old’ Gods to fight in a war. That’s it. That sums up at least the first half, if not the first three quarters of the book. It sounds simple and seems unlikely to last 443 pages, but it’s not that simple and does indeed last 443 pages. The entire book is scattered with and entirely made up of small stories, shorter happenings that thread together to create a network of narratives and characters that culminate in the last hundred-odd pages.

To be honest, i found the climax(es) unsatisfying, or at least, not as satisfying as they should have been, considering the lengthy build-up. When the truth about what had been happening was finally revealed, when the network of narratives each got completed, i found i had enjoyed the story more than conclusions; i found the journey more exciting than the arrival.

There were numerous large concepts being dealt with throughout the book, but i chose not to read into them too deeply. Maybe i would have enjoyed the book and the conclusion more if i had, but i preferred to let myself enjoy the characters and their journeys without over analysing the metaphors. I’m sure this book would benefit from a re-read or two, but i doubt it will get it from me. I enjoyed the book, and that’s enough.