Monday, October 10, 2011

Short Story Sunday - Week 5 (A Day Late) and The Lantern Read-a-Long Part 1

Short Story Sunday - Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman - Week 5
In the introduction to Neil Gaiman's short story collection -- a wildly diverse assortment of horror, sci-fi, dark fantasy, poetry, and speculative fiction -- he explains the book's title: "Stories, like people and butterflies and songbirds' eggs and human hearts and dreams, are fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks."
Noteworthy selections in this undeniably exceptional collection include the Hugo Award winning "A Study in Emerald," which deftly blends Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's late-19th-century England with gruesome Lovecraftian horror; the Locus Award winning "October in the Chair"; an homage to Ray Bradbury that features the months of the year personified; and "How to Talk to Girls at Parties," a tale featuring two oversexed teenagers from an all-boys school in South London who stumble into a party full of what they take to be hot chicks but are in reality alien tourists! Also included are a brilliant American Gods novella ("Monarch of the Glen") and "Strange Little Girls," a series of, well, strange very short stories that first appeared in a Tori Amos tour book.

Like his previous short story collection (1998's critically acclaimed Smoke and Mirrors), Gaiman's Fragile Things is anything but; this is a powerhouse compilation that proves once again that Gaiman is a true master of short fiction. It's fitting that he dedicates this collection to three short story icons -- Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Robert Sheckley.
Stories Read This Week:
The Problem of Susan
How Do You Think it Feels?

I love telling stories. I will put my friends' kids to bed simply for the ability to be able to read to them or tell them a story. When I was little my parents used to read to us, but I don't really remember a time when they made up the stories. So, I used to do so for myself. I would take stories I had been read and rewrite them for myself. The two that I can remember are 'The Elephant Prince' and 'The Princess Who Laughed and Laughed'. This story reminded me of that. In this case it was a an imagined moment when a story is being told and the listener is 'helping'. It was a really fun story. It also reminded me of this annoying book that my brother had where a bear would be getting ready for the day and after saying what he did, it would say 'So do I'. My mother or father would tell what the bear did and then my brother would say 'So do I'. It was his first 'reading' and I absolutely hated that book.

The Problem of Susan
This is actually why this group read came along. I was reading The Magician's Book for the Once Upon a Time challenge and in there it mentioned that Neil Gaiman had written a story imagining what it was like for Susan after the events of the last book. I mentioned in an email to Carl that I wanted to read this story, he told me it was in this collection, and the read-a-long was born. I had been meaning to read this collection anyway, but this story was the reason it happened sooner rather than later. I wish I had liked the story a bit better, though. It was a bit strange, which isn't necessarily a terrible thing, but I think I had a different idea for how Susan turned out and this was not it. I was always bothered by the end of the series, though, so maybe nothing would have pleased me no matter how creative the imagination. The story is meant to be an irritant, though. So, maybe it was effective? I enjoy that he was talking about the power of children's literature. The story might not have been an entire waste for that simple reason.

Yay! A poem I actually enjoyed! Carl thought I might and I did, so that makes me happy. I love fairy tales and this is instructions should you find yourself in one. This appealed to my inner nerd, I believe. I loved it!

How Do You Think it Feels?
um, I really don't know what to say about this story. I really enjoy gargoyles, but I am not sure if I entirely could get excited about the idea of a gargoyle guarding a heart. It just didn't have the same atmosphere for me. I was also surprised by the sex references in this story and 'The Problem of Susan'. I just didn't find they were necessary for the story and things would have progressed just as well without them. I just found that I didn't make a connection with this story and the characters in it. It will probably be erased from my memory very quickly.

Other Posts:

The Lantern by Read-A-Long - Week 1
A modern gothic novel of love, secrets, and murder—set against the lush backdrop of Provence

Meeting Dom was the most incredible thing that had ever happened to me. When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom in Switzerland, their whirlwind relationship leads them to Les GenÉvriers, an abandoned house set among the fragrant lavender fields of the South of France. Each enchanting day delivers happy discoveries: hidden chambers, secret vaults, a beautiful wrought-iron lantern. Deeply in love and surrounded by music, books, and the heady summer scents of the French countryside, Eve has never felt more alive.

But with autumn’s arrival the days begin to cool, and so, too, does Dom. Though Eve knows he bears the emotional scars of a failed marriage—one he refuses to talk about—his silence arouses suspicion and uncertainty. The more reticent Dom is to explain, the more Eve becomes obsessed with finding answers—and with unraveling the mystery of his absent, beautiful ex-wife, Rachel.

Like its owner, Les GenÉvriers is also changing. Bright, warm rooms have turned cold and uninviting; shadows now fall unexpectedly; and Eve senses a presence moving through the garden. Is it a ghost from the past or a manifestation of her current troubles with Dom? Can she trust Dom, or could her life be in danger?

Eve does not know that Les GenÉvriers has been haunted before. BÉnÉdicte Lincel, the house’s former owner, thrived as a young girl within the rich elements of the landscape: the violets hidden in the woodland, the warm wind through the almond trees. She knew the bitter taste of heartbreak and tragedy—long-buried family secrets and evil deeds that, once unearthed, will hold shocking and unexpected consequences for Eve.
This is week one of the group read of The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson for the R.I.P. Challenge VI. Carl has thought up the questions for this week and you can read my answers below.

1. This may seem like an obvious opening question, but what do you think of The Lantern thus far?
Let' s put it this way... After I finished the second section I was very tempted to email you and say 'evil'. I looked at the schedule, I looked at where I was in the book, and I wanted to read on. I couldn't, though,because I wanted my questions for next week to be about the next sections predominately and this week to not reflect that I had read on. It took me a while to get into the flow of the book, but when I finally did it wasn't almost too late. Hopefully when I pick it up again I will be able to recapture the mood I was in when I read the second section. If I had read this myself and not for a read-a-long I would be finished by now.

2. The book appears to be following the experiences of two different women, alternating back and forth between their stories. Are you more fond of our main protagonist's story or of Benedicte's or are you enjoying them both equally?
Tough question. I think I am enjoying Benedicte's story more, though. It is more of a ghost story and there is a lot of unanswered questions. The main protagonist is a bit predictable, so unless the author does something amazing you basically know how things are going to play out.

3. The Lantern is a book filled with descriptions of scents. How are you liking (or disliking) that aspect of the book? How do you feel about the lavish description of scents? How are the short chapters working for you?
I like that aspect of the book. A scent can really set a mood, which it is doing so far in this book. Your sense of smell can also lead to things you might not appreciate with your other senses. I like the short chapters. When I read I tend to try and read to the end of a chapter before putting a book down for the day. I get very exasperated when the chapter seems to be going on forever and I am falling asleep. I have learned long ago that short chapters work best for me when I am tired.

4. How would you describe the atmosphere of Parts 1 and 2 of The Lantern?
The sections both have a darkish quality to them. The main protagonist is being haunted by the memory of a mysterious past and Benedicte is being haunted by ghosts from her past. The stories are dealt with in a different way, but ultimately they have the same feel to them. I look forward to seeing how things play out.

5. Has anything surprised you to this point? Anything stand out?
I am only disappointed with this book so far because nothing has really surprised me. It is basically playing out the way that you would expect. I hope that there is a big surprise in the future or I think that no matter how much I enjoy this book, I will overall be disappointed.

6. What are your feelings about Dom in these first two sections of the story?
He reminds me a lot of a certain male character from a certain book by a famous female author with the last name du Maurier. I am sure you have no idea what I am talking about... This book might be set in a more modern period, but he is equally as secretive and the mysteries will probably not be solved until they have to be just like in said famous book.

Bonus question: Did anyone else hear "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" ringing in their ears through the first sections of the book?
Which leads me to this question... Honestly? A character named Rachel. A house that plays a central role. An ex-wife that has 'mysteriously' disappeared. At least in the other book there was sort of an explanation. In this book she has simply vanished. I was happy for about ten seconds because the main protagonist had a name, but then she goes on to say that he calls her Eve but that is not really her name. It is not to say I am not liking the book so far, but it is to say I am curious about how it will all play out and how many similarities there will be.


  1. I agree, the book is predictable. I like Marthe's story because I'm fascinated with her profession. I'm really into scent. The scent descriptions work well for me but not the others. Too much, too lush.
    This isn't how I experienced the South of France in my childhood. Mine is spicier, rougher and wilder. Let's see how it goes from here.
    Did I say I don't like Dom?

  2. **Caroline: I will have to see how the next two sections go when I have a chance to get back to it later today. I am not sure what to think of Dom. I know we aren't supposed to really like him, but I want to know all the reasons why first.

  3. Oddly enough, "The Problem With Susan" is one of my favorites in "Fragile Things" thus far. Her exclusion from Narnia bothered me, as did the fact that it seemed to be a punishment for growing up and developing sexual interests. I thought it was C. S. Lewis being preachy, and I liked Gaiman's take on the rest of her life. Her being a professor just felt right.

    I also like the shorter chapters in "The Lantern," as I do a lot of bus reading. I'm trying to stop myself from reading too far ahead, but I need to know what happens next!

  4. Oh my gosh, ok, I'm glad I'm not the only one who picked up on the name Rachel. Also, not letting the narrator have a name? That bothers me on a couple of levels, partially because it is completely subsuming the narrator into the world around her and preventing her from having a fully-formed self-actualized identity, but mostly because that certain female author you mentioned already played that game and did it really damn well too.

    I'm looking forward to your future assessments!

  5. Are you calling me evil? LOL! I planned it that way, of course. ;)

    I'm being good and not reading ahead, so as to try to be tuned in on only the section of the book we are reading when I answer the questions. It isn't easy as I really got into a reading groove with the book the last time I picked it up.

    Your description of how you read is exactly the reason I am normally fond of short chapters. I alternate between periods where I can read for long spells and ones in which I can only get a bit here or there and I like it when a book provides me with natural breaks for those short reading periods. It didn't work for me well as I started the book, but once I got into it I didn't notice it so much.

    Nice way of putting things in regards to the dual hauntings taking place. I hadn't thought about it quite that way but you are right. And I'm enjoying the hauntings.

    I'm not as disappointed about the lack of surprises thus far because what I was really hoping for was a book with a good thick moody atmosphere and in that sense it has thus far delivered. It will be interesting to see if I still feel this way if everything plays out as I am thinking it will.

    du Maurier? Who is that? LOL.


    So happy that you enjoyed Instructions. Given our shared love for de Lint I just knew this one would connect with you on some level.

    Thanks for the reminder on why we started this read-a-long as I had forgotten that incident until you wrote about it again. So its all your fault!!! ;)

    I'm sort of glad you didn't like the story better, but that is only because it irritates me, which is probably what Neil was going for.

    And Locks is a poem too and it sounds like you enjoyed that one as well, so that is two in one week, Yay!!!!

    Yes, the sex references in both of this week's stories really jarred the reader out of the story in my opinion and mar what could have been very good stories.

  6. You mentioned one of the 'down sides' of a read-along; the part that one must contain oneself to go along with the others. Too often I've found myself racing on ahead to the end. Bellezza, party of one I guess. Anyway, I read it this summer so I surely don't want to spoil any surprises. Suffice it to say I liked Benedictine's story better, too, and it's so likened to Rebecca it's almost contrived. In my humble opinion.

  7. **Grace: How interesting that the story I disliked the most, you enjoyed the most. I liked the idea behind the story enough to read the short story collection for it, but I just didn't like the story...

    It took me a while to get used to the shorter chapters, but once I was caught up in the story it was a lot better.

    **Kate: Yes, Rachel was famous in another book, but still, a nod to du Maurier. I know. Even when Eve meets other people her real name is not revealed. We just keep hearing Eve and only from him. I am looking forward to reading on in this book!

    **Carl: lol Not that anyone would ever believe me, but yes, yes I was. hahaha!

    I really enjoyed the shorter chapters. I am looking forward to reading on in the book tonight. I started, but then life got busy. I also need to get back to The Two Towers.

    The book has a great atmosphere. I agree entirely on that. I think it is the perfect read for this time of the year.

    Yep, all my fault, but I am enjoying this read. :) There are a few stories I didn't entirely love, but there were many that were really good.

    I never thought about the fact that I liked two poems. That's saying something for me, then!

    I know. I am not exactly a prude, but I do have my limits...

    **Bellezza: I used to be really bad about reading ahead in read-alongs, but I seem to be doing a lot better lately. I am looking forward to my overall impressions of this book.


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