Friday, 22 November 2013

Book Review: Fragile Things

Book Review: Fragile Things
Author: Neil Gaiman
Year Published: 2006
Genre: Science fiction, Fantasy, Short stories, Poetry

I have praised Neil Gaiman for his creativity (MirrorMask) before and I have no doubt his imagination contains so much more. Fragile Things is the perfect example of how grand and endless his imagination is. Comprising of short stories and poems, this book will make you decipher the stories yourself and test your own imagination.

Confession: I don’t like Neil Gaiman’s full length novels.
I have tried dipping into American Gods and The Graveyard Book, I love the concept but hate the added little mundane works between the storyline. I’m a straight to the point and move along kind of reader. But give me his short stories (Fragile Things), TV episodes (Doctor Who), graphic novels (Sandman) and movie adoptions of his novels (Stardust) any day and I can guarantee you I will love them…. well none have failed me yet. Except Coraline the movie, I don’t like stop-motion.
Yes, I’m annoyingly picky like that.

Fragile Things bring snippets of  mysterious and brilliant, short stories into reality. There is no beginning and there is no end.
Imagine waiting for a friend on a street corner, minding your own business. You notice a man across the street leaving a book on a chair then walking away. You wonder why he left the book. Did he do it on purpose? Who is he? Then your thoughts trail to, what is in that book? Is it important? Was it left for someone else? How long will it take for someone to notice the book lying there? From there it leads to, who will pick it up? Would someone randomly take it? Will it be thrown away like trash?
You are even tempted to walk across the street to look at the book yourself in hope maybe it was left for you but you think better of it and decide not to. This insignificant event will be forgotten. But what if it was significant, maybe not to you, but to someone or something else?
These are the questions that Neil Gaiman leaves you with at the end of every short story. Under the book Fragile Things, our world is bigger, more dangerous and much more mysterious.

Personal favorite is ‘Other People’. Not wanting to ruin the story, it involves the afterlife of someone who has lived an ‘evil’ life. Evil can be found in any type of person and punishment may not be as simple as physical pain. Gaiman does a fantastic representation of what goes around comes around… in a more literal sense. How he gets these ideas in his head, we may never know.
There is also a sequel to American Gods following Shadow to Scotland, poems and a Sherlock Holmes story involving alien invasions.

Fragile Things' many story lines are short and unfinished allowing the mind to run wild. The writing is simple and unspecific to a point. Naturally, I loved it.

There is something for everyone in Fragile Things. For the readers who prefer a tale with a beginning and an end, I will not recommend this book. For the over imaginative readers out there, this book will set your mind off in all directions.
The next time you see that man, there’s definitely a lot more too it than accidentally leaving a book.

Terri's Rating: 4/5

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Book Review: Switch Bitch

Title: Switch Bitch
Author: Roald Dahl
Year Published: 1974
Genre: Short stories, Erotic humour

Dark, funny and always bizarre, Roald Dahl’s short stories usually climax in some sort of terrifying, karmic twist. Switch Bitch is a collection for four such tales, where sex is the word of the day and the word of the day is sex.

In ‘The Visitor’, we are introduced to Uncle Oswald, a pompous, hedonistic womanizer who finds himself stranded in the Sinai Desert. He is rescued by the wealthy Mr Aziz, who takes Oswald to his desert palace where temptation awaits in the form of Aziz’s wife and daughter. The story begins a little slowly, but the atmosphere – the sense of entrapment – and Oswald’s morally dubious character are built to wonderful effect. By the end of it all you’re not sure whether to feel bad for the poor bastard, though you’ll definitely be amused at his expense.

Next comes ‘The Great Switcheroo’, wherein our narrator fancies sleeping with his neighbour’s wife. A plot is hatched: each man learns the other’s “routines” so that they can impersonate one another and swap wives for a night. The ins and outs of this horrible plan are carefully detailed and the tension is built up masterfully. Mr Horrible Husband’s comeuppance proves to be very satisfying. Serves him right.

The third tale, ‘The Last Act’, was my least favourite. It tells the story of Anna as she deals with the loss of her beloved husband. Unlike the protagonists of the other tales, Anna seems like a genuinely sweet person – or at least someone who isn’t an intentional asshole – and her fate just feels depressing. Without the bite of ‘justice’, this story comes across as more dark than darkly funny. Further, it lacks the hook of a high-concept premise and is considerably less exciting, with the story feeling directionless for the most part. For these reasons, ‘The Last Act’ doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the collection and creates a bit of mood whiplash.

In ‘Bitch’, we have another of Uncle Oswald’s adventures. This was perhaps my favourite story. The premise is certainly novel: a scientist invents a perfume that fills men with uncontrollable lust. The development, testing and eventual ‘use’ of this dangerous substance are detailed meticulously, with the scientific jargon adding to the realism and hence the suspense. It’s (relatively) fast-paced, action-filled and light-hearted compared to the other stories. To me, it was also the funniest of the lot.

If you only know Dahl as a children’s author (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Fantastic Mr Fox and so on), a collection like this might take some adjusting to. If you’re worried about ruining your childhood, know at least that the sex scenes aren’t explicit. The raunchiest of them happens in ‘Bitch’ and that one is full of hyperbole; generally, the sex scenes serve to humour rather than titillate. Know also that sex isn’t exactly the key feature of all these stories, but rather, more of an excuse of a theme to justify bringing these stories together. Both surprisingly and unsurprisingly, these stories were first published in Playboy. So there you go.

Dahl’s trademark wicked, twisted humour are present in all four tales, which are also fun to read for the puzzle-solving aspect of their characters’ conundrums. Tense and tightly plotted, each story is easily read in one sitting. There’s a somewhat ponderous yet comfortable feel to the writing style here – necessarily different from Dahl’s children’s books – which may factor into your enjoyment of these stories. It took me a while to get into ‘The Visitor’, for example, since it started off so slowly.

A further warning: these stories were written in the 60s, and they do feel a little dated (wives are synonymous with housewives, for example). That said, I still found them incredibly readable. Recommended for someone appreciative of dirty jokes and after a quick, clever, twisty read.

Alex’s Rating: 4/5