Fragile Things Read-a-long Week 2

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The second week of the Fragile Things read-a-long is finally here, and I couldn’t be happier because the weather here has finally decided to jump on board with all of my fall reading – cloudy, blustery grey days that have been getting progressively colder! I know there are many out there who hate these recent developments, but I love fall and winter and thus couldn’t be happier! But, enough gabby adulation of the weather – let’s discuss some short stories! The selections for this week are “The Hidden Chamber”, “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire”, “The Flints of Memory Lane”, and “Closing Time”.

“The Hidden Chamber”

Another piece of poetry from the great Neil Gaiman, I have to say that I liked this one less than “The Fairy Reel” of last week. The reason for this twofold: one, it’s not nearly as pretty in terms of it’s lyricism. Now, I know this isn’t necessarily required of poetry, but when it comes to my personal tastes, it definitely ups my enjoyment factor. At the same time, I also consider the concept of the fairy world and it’s existence to be more enjoyable than the Bluebeard-based tale. Bluebeard was just never really my thing!

That being said, however, there were bits and pieces of this poem that I absolutely adored. “Do not fear the ghosts in this house; they/ are the least of your worries” . How WONDERFULLY creepy a starting line is this, especially when you read from the perspective of the Bluebeard character. It immediately makes the mind jump to conclusions as to what else in the house could possibly be more worrisome or terrifying. There is also this incredibly ominous sense of captivity and a kind of crushing omnipresence in the even tone and matter-of-factness with which the narrator speaks. I found this echoed again the the part about the butterfly. Even as the narrator let’s the butterfly go, there is a sense that part if it will always remain trapped along with him, as he himself is trapped and trapping. I hope that makes sense! It does in my head, I swear! Hehe 🙂 All in all, I have to say that it’s a well written poem, if not my personal favorite.

“Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire”

Let me just go ahead and begin by saying that I LOVED this story, and will probably continue to love it for quite some time! I actually read this one twice, the first time straight through and the second time reading it as almost two separate stories – reading first the parts with our frustrated author and secondly the sections with our gothic tale of our young lady house inhabitant. I found that doing it this way allowed me to really be able to compare the two.

One of the things I’ve always loved Neil Gaiman is his ironic sense of humor. Case in point? The fact that, as the writer becomes more and more frustrated that his attempts to write real life come off campy and cliched, in his own life things like this happen:

The man facing him was almost his double…the stranger’s eyes were dark and wild, his mouth petulant but oddly firm. “Yes -I! I, your elder brother, whom you thought long dead these many years. But I am not dead – or perhaps, I am no longer dead – and I have come back – aye, come back from ways that are best left untravelled – to claim what is truly mine…I claim birth-right, and blood-right – and death right!” So saying, he pulled both swords down from above the fireplace, and passed one, hilt first, to his younger brother.” I mean, come on?! It’s the perfect kind of gothic camp in his real life that he fears he can’t escape in his writing! It’s the kind of literary turn that only Gaiman could pull off with such mastery.

Lastly, in discussing the second aspect of the story, I actually thought this gothic tale was pretty damn scary at points. I mean, obviously Gaiman imbibes it with his fair share of humor and wit, but passages like this really creep me out: He simply stared at her for a moment. Then he beckoned again, with one bone-colored finger. As she entered, he thrust the candle close to her face and stare at her with eyes that were not truly mad but were still far from sane.” The portrait Gaiman created in my mind actually got scary enough that I found I couldn’t read this story much after the street lamps came on!

“The Flints of Memory Lane”

I love this title. It evokes a kind of sharpening of memory that reminds me of that expression ‘as steel sharpens steel’. Plus, I couldn’t agree more with he narrator more when he starts with “I like things to be story-shaped” . I mean, all that really means is that I like things to have a beginning, middle, and end, but for me it also means that I tend to like having that little bit of drama, that occasional odd occurrence or story-line not wrapped up.

That happened to be the aspect of this story I was totally enamored with – the truth of the fact that sometimes the scariest stories we have are based on nothing more than moments, special happenings that can’t necessarily be explained or shared. I found the young narrator to be just innocent enough to tell this kind of story, understanding what it means but, on the flip side, coming just short of understanding the full impact of the moment, the way an adult and the reader does. This story may have been the shortest of this weeks reading, but it packed quite a bit of punch!

“Closing Time”

This was probably my favorite of all the reading we did for this week! I’ve always been a little in love with the idea of dark and secret pubs, of reading clubs and smoking rooms and all those British men-only things. No idea why, but these ideas always seem to go hand in hand with the feeling of all things literary and revolutionary. I also thought that the fact that the young man’s drawing of a house with a red door-knocker mirrored the playhouse he found to be one of the spine-tingliest moments of any story we read this week.

I loved Carl V’s mention of the fact that, whatever the young boys who disappeared in the house experienced, could have been sexually abusive in nature to be spot-on, because that’s what I assumed too. The way the old man described he and his fellow boy’s imprisonment, the cages and the screaming and such, it just felt like a kind of horror that goes beyond things that go bump in the night – the kind of horror that comes from inside people. And sometimes that can be even more horrifying than all manner if feedlots and crawlies.

I also greatly enjoyed the fact that it was never made explicit what happened to the three boys. It’s my assumption that they were tortured in to madness and that one of them was the old man at the end of the story, but it’s also entirely possible that this man is loony and that all three of the boys in the actual story have died. It is not only scarier that way, but it also indicates just how quickly something as innocent as childhood pranks and dares can become something far greater than that. I think Gaiman does some of his best work when he leaves questions in his story unanswered, and this is quite possibly the perfect example of that!

That wraps up my thoughts for this weeks chunk of the read-a-long! Don’t forget that it’s not too late to join us for the last few weeks if the read-a-long — we’d love to have your input, too! In a quick personal update, things around here are pretty much business as usual! With the great weather have come the not-so-great allergies, and FBM and I are just trying to stay warm and sickness free as we catch up on Dr. Who! It is, quite possibly, the perfect fall! Happy reading!

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kailana
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 21:04:39

    Great thoughts! I am looking forward to reading more from this collection!

    Reply

  2. Carl V.
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 22:06:26

    I echo Kailana, great thoughts!

    I didn’t remember until later that The Hidden Chamber was a poem. I’m listening to this on audio and Gaiman reads it with such calm and lack of lyricism that it reads more like a story. I’m a fan of the Bluebeard idea, just because it is creepy, and I like the way Gaiman interprets it. I’ve said it many times this afternoon, read The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. Another great take on the Bluebeard stories.

    Forbidden Brides is such a fun and clever story. The words drip with atmosphere. I could practically see fog rolling out of my CD player as I listened to it. I think Gaiman balances camp and gothic horror brilliantly with this one, and the final lines in the “fantasy” story are chilling, more so than the “real” world in which the author lives.

    You are right in that the voice of the narrator in Flints does sound to be just the right age/innocence. Especially if you think of it being a true story that happened to Gaiman as a young man and remembering what life was like back in those days in comparison to now. It is a story that doesn’t scare me, but reminds me of my own scary times as a kid and in that I think Gaiman really succeeds with this slight story.

    Closing Time is a story that gets more and more horrifying the more you think of it. Very, very terrifying. It is one where I honestly don’t want to know for sure what happened, and yet maybe knowing would be better because my imagination wouldn’t run so wild every time I read it. It is filled with the potential of real, true to life, horror actually being perpetrated on the young boys and yet could also be something unreal and supernatural and creepy in its own right.

    Glad you enjoyed this week’s stories.

    Reply

    • Chelsea
      Sep 19, 2011 @ 16:13:02

      Carl – I’ve just now gotten my hands on a copy of Neil Gaiman reading the audio book, and as it’s a beautiful fall day and the pup is in need of a walk, I can’t wait to strap on the sneakers and give a listen to some of the fantastic stories we’ve read so far! I’ll keep you posted as to my thoughts. 🙂

      Reply

  3. Grace
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 01:51:01

    I also love fall; it’s my favorite season by far. I feel like these stories are best paired with a cup of tea on a chilly autumn day.

    Forbidden Brides was awesome, and I think it would have been a lot of fun to write.

    My favorite this week was “Closing Time.” I’m still wondering what happened to the boys, almost hoping for a supernatural explanation but knowing that the reality is probably far worse. I like how the narrator pointed out that he didn’t know whether or not it was a ghost story. It leaves so much to wonder about.

    Reply

  4. Emily Barton
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 15:59:53

    I’m a HUGE fall and winter fan, too, and i couldn’t be happier with the rainy day we had on Saturday and the little nip in the air today. What a great way to read Forbidden Brides. I’ll have to go back and read it that way.

    Reply

    • Chelsea
      Sep 20, 2011 @ 00:55:37

      I totally would, if you have the time! I was a little hesitant at first, but it really was a great way to try and understand the two stories as both working together but also operating on their own terms!

      Reply

  5. nerdybookgirl (@nerdybookgirl)
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 00:41:42

    Speaking of ghostly short stories about British men and clubs and such, you must read MR James if you haven’t already. His stories are chilling and, as Gaiman stated in the introduction to Fragile Things, he is part of the inspiration for this tale.

    Reply

    • Chelsea
      Sep 20, 2011 @ 00:56:42

      Oh, it’s totally on the list! Along with The Bloody Chamber and The Castle of Otranto, both of which have already been recommended to me as great books to compliment Fragile Things! I can’t wait to give him a try, though – as I said, I do love me a good dose of British men and clubs and such!

      Reply

  6. GeraniumCat (@GeraniumCat)
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 14:44:49

    The Flints of Memory Lane is such a good title isn’t it – it mights you think of walking on the sharp flints, which is a very fairytale image in itself, and very unsettling – so it makes clear that there are sharp, uncomfortable things in memories as well. My feeling is that it’s a much cleverer story than some people are giving it credit for: its repeated “this is not a proper story” statements making it seem even more true. And like Carl says, it may not be very frightening, but it makes you identify very closely with it and think about your own experiences.

    Reply

  7. GeraniumCat (@GeraniumCat)
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 14:45:28

    sorry, that should have been “it makes you think”!

    Reply

  8. Trackback: The R.I.P. VI Challenge: A Wrap-Up « Book Maven’s Blog

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