The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson, Read-a-Long Week 3

I felt horrible to miss last week’s read-a-long post for The Lantern, but as my last post mentioned, I was just deep in the middle of a funk! But I’ve worked my way out of it,  and I can’t wait to share the rest of my thoughts on this wonderful, beautiful fall-time book! On to the questions, sent to us this week by the lovely Heather! As always, you can find the other participants’ answers here!

1. Now that it’s all said and done; what did you think of the book? Did you see the ending coming?

Yes and no. I mean, not in the detail-y way. More in the whole, you know, I began to think about 75% of the way through that things were going to end up working out between Dom and Eve – she was just too damn in love with him throughout the rest of the novel. I did not, however, see Benedicte’s blindness coming, and almost felt that it was a bit of a let-down on Lawrenson’s part that the ghosts could be explained away medically, in essence. It would have been much more interesting, in my book, if she had just left them up as visions (then again, I did kind of like the circularity that the blindness theme presented, so who knows…). I also don’t know how I feel about them choosing to stay in the house – I don’t think I could handle that, in the same situation!

Reading that paragraph makes it sounds like a I had a whole host of problems with the end/whole of the book, but I didn’t. I LOVED the twists with Pierre and the dead bodies, and I thought the whole thing was just the kind of sensory overload I was looking for! I guess I just have a few things still niggling me.

2. What do you think of the characters? Lawrenson took us on a twisty little ride there, I had trouble deciding who was good and who wasn’t for a while there! What do you think of Dom? Of Sabine? Rachel?

I think the only person I was really ever iffy about was Sabine. Don’t get me wrong – I was flat out wrong about Dom. I totally had him pegged as the creepy murdering type, and was actually pleasantly surprised by how well-done Lawrenson was able to work out that twist in the story, especially as it did ‘excuse’ some of Dom’s more moody behavior as well as some of the guilt he was feeling.

However, with Sabine I just couldn’t figure out where she was coming from. Of course, that was revealed by the end of reading, but for the rest of the novel I just couldn’t decide where she was coming from or what she was doing there. I was never really concerned about Rachel, as she was dead and there wasn’t much the story was going to do to change that, but I did like the way Eve and Rachel ‘interacted’ throughout the story. I also think I’m kind of glad that Eve and Dom ended up together, even thought I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW SHE STAYED THAT LONG. See my last read-a-long post for my quibbles with Eve and this whole part of the story.

3. Pierre was such a conflicted character. In the end, do you think he killed Marthe and Annette, or did the fall to their deaths because of their blindness?

To be honest, I never gave credit to the fact that Marthe and Annette fell to their deaths. I mean, true, it could have happened, but then why would Pierre have buried the bodies and not just left them? And how ‘convenient’ was it that, after the visit, Marthe suddenly changed her tune and started talking about how much she wanted to sell and how much she hated Benedicte? Nope, I never bought it – I always believed, and still do, that Pierre is such a thoroughly bad guy that he killed them both, cut Benedicte and Marthe’s ties post-mortem, and disappeared to die drunk, old, and alone.

Pierre is the perfect example of a character who I LOVE to hate, who is so evil that it makes me want to yell, makes my skin crawl, but he was so well-written that I just couldn’t get enough of him!

4. The book is being compared to Rebecca and Daphne du Maurier’s writing. Do you think the book lives up to that description?

If nothing else, I think the books both share such beautiful prose that the rest doesn’t even matter to me. I mean, yes, obviously there are other similarities – a creepy house with a deep history, a young man tortured by his past lover, deceit and lies and mistrust and all those other fun themes. But Lawrenson definitely wrote her own book, though, so I think that the deepest connection the two share is that they both create, so vividly in the mind of the reader, a world and a relationship full of dark corners and dusty secrets, using sights and smells and touches and a deep knowledge of humans to create a world where the reader loves to live almost as much as the characters themselves. If only we could get more and more books like that!

5. Did you have any problems with the book? Narration? Plot? The back and forth between two different characters and times?

See: problems with Eve, the disease causing the ghostly apparitions, staying at Les Genevriers.

6. Do you think Lawrenson tied both stories together well in the end? Is there anything she could/should have done differently?

I don’t think so! I feel like I’m being so repetitive, but honestly, the only thing I really couldn’t accept at the end was the fact that they decided to stay in that house! I mean, yeah, I guess since everything spooky was ‘explained’ – another problem I had with the story – it wouldn’t necessarily matter, but I really don’t know if I could handle staying in a place where there were skeletons found in my pool and a whole host of angry memories locked up in the walls. I also think it would have been far more interesting to see where that whole buried treasure plot line led, as it didn’t really go anywhere and felt like that was kind of an unnecessary plot addition (stop me if I missed something too huge!)

7. One problem I had with the novel is the reliability of the narrators. Do you think any of them were telling the truth? Which ones?

I think part of the thing that worked so well for The Lantern was that the narrators were kind of all unreliable – Benedicte never really knew the truth about what happened to her sister (or her brother) and so everything she tells us is inherently unreliable. And Eve is too preoccupied with Rachel to know/tell the full truth about Dom. However, it works in this story because the truth comes fully to light at the end, and the secrets along the way are just what keep the tension going, stringing the reader along behind!

Well, folks, there you have it! I’m super stoked that I was able to play a bit of catch up this week (I’m now two weeks behind on the Fragile Things read-a-long, but by God I will be there next week to finish up the discussion) and expect to see a few more reviews throughout the week, as well as a new vlog if things go well (this one may NOT be Library Loot, if you can believe it, as I love the vlogging format and would like to see how it goes to use it as a way to review books as well!) Hope that your autumn is as beautiful there as it is here, and happy reading to all!

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The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson: Read-a-Long Week One

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Hello, all! It’s fall break here, so my today and tomorrow are deliciously clear, and so there is no better time to write my own contribution to Carl V.’s read-a-long of The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson! This is the second read-a-long I’m doing with Carl V. for the R.I.P. Challenge, and I’m super excited to have discussion questions to work from this time. The Fragile Things is far more open, and it’ll be fun to mix it up a little. So, without further ado, the questions!

1. This may seem like an obvious opening question, but what do you think of The Lantern thus far?

I’m loving it (gets McDonalds theme stuck in her head)! It’s been the perfect R.I.P. read and the whole things just smacks of gothic foreshadowing and dark twisty secrets! Lawrenson’s style is lush and is almost as beautiful as the Provence she writes. I’ve often fantasized about doing the ex-pat thing, finding and fixing up an old manor and spending my days reading and market shopping and wine drinking. Of course, this is total fantasy (versus Eve’s similar but more menacing reality) and it’s the discrepancy between my own dream and the way Lawrenson writes the story that has me so intrigued thus far. I also thinks it’s a fantastic show of writer-ship to be able to craft a story clearly lurking beneath the story being told — through everything from foreshadowing to interconnected details, and Lawrenson seems able to do this in spades.

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?

To be honest, a this point, I’m far more interested in our main narrators story than I am in Benedicte’s. Again, the appeal of a modern ‘turning over a new leaf’ tale is too much to overcome a story that’s more quasi- historical fiction than anything else. Of course, I absolutely loathe Pierre, so I will be intrigued to see how the relationship between he and Benedicte develops.

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’m loving the shorter chapters, actually. I feel like it really does help me feel like I’m just zipping along as the chapter numbers get higher and higher, and switching points of view in this manner keeps each chapter ending on a mini-cliff hanger and keeps me from getting overdrawn or tired of any one of the certain stories (I will say that sometimes I got a little worn down by the Eve/Dom relationship drama, which left me very tense and frustrated a certain times).

4. How would you describe the atmosphere of Parts 1 and 2 of The Lantern?

I love, probably more than anything else so far, the opening descriptions of summer at Les Genevriers, the dining on the deck, wine and candles and delicious summer scents and warm evenings. I think it’s this love Lawrenson created in me for the summer setting that caused such delicious growing tension as the seasons progressed in to fall. Which, you know, is pretty, but for me doesn’t pack the same punch as the summer setting. I also greatly admire the way that Lawrenson is able to use the shifting seasons to both create ans mirror the shifting tensions and dynamics between both Eve and Dom and Benedicte and the rest of her family unit. As a writer, I know that can be difficult to do well, and I think Lawrenson pulls it off beautifully!

5. Has anything surprised you to this point? Anything stand out?

Pierre and the kitten! That’s all I’m going to say in case I’m mistaken and this actually happens in part three. But if you know what I’m talking about, then yeah. It’s been a long time since a single action by a single character has literally filled me with so much anger and disgust that I was literally shaking.

6. What are your feelings about Dom in these first two sections of the story?

I have mixed feelings about Dom. Right at the very beginning, I was as enchanted by him as Eve was. He seemed funny and kind and sexy as all hell!! However, I got way sick and tired of this whole “don’t-ask-me-about-Rachel-or-I’ll-be-MAD” thing A LOT sooner than Eve did. I mean, for real. I can get being devastated by an ex and that loss. But after a certain amount of time it’s just, like, DUDE! Get over yourself! You’re either ready to be in a new relationship or your not, and I’m so not letting you jerk me around while you figure it out! There was something very Max DeWinter about him (which is no surprise, considering the many obvious similarities), but I think that the reason this didn’t bother me as much with Max as it did with Dom is that Max had the oodles of charm to pull it off, and Dom so just doesn’t!

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?

Ohmygoodness YES!! Of course!! The only way, I think, you could miss them is if you’ve never read Rebecca! Especially when Eve begins with such strong foreshadowing to a broken romance and destroyed way of life all centered around a house…yeah. I definitely heard the echoes! The only thing that really bugged me, actually, was that Rebecca was actually brought up within the story as being just like the story currently happening. Stuff like that just never quite sits right with me – it’s like yelling a subtext at the top of your lungs, hitting the reader about the face with subtlety. I’d like to be trusted to get it on my own a bit more!

Well, y’all, there you have it! I’m sure it’ll be one of the last ones up, but I couldn’t miss out on the post completely, but better way later than intended than never at all! Happy reading!

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: Read-a-Long Week Five

Hello, all! I hope that your October has been treating you as lovely as mine has been so far, and that whatever you’re reading has wrapped you up in a lovely blanket of fall and cooler temperatures – finally! (I really, really love fall if my glowing adoration in prose the past few weeks hasn’t given that away!) I’m so glad to be writing another week’s worth of reflections on Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman! For my first ever read-a-long, I’d like to toot my own horn a bit and say that I think I’m doing great with the keeping on schedule and what not, but I really can’t even say that because that’s not important. What’s great is that I’m having such an awesome time discussing these stories and really do look forward every Sunday to seeing what everyone else has to say! This week, we looked at two poems and two short stories. Unfortunately, this was another rough week for me (see week three for another not-so-great time) as I can’t say I really cared for most of the works this week. We’re covering “Locks”, “The Problem of Susan”, “Instructions”, and “How do you Think it Feels” this week, and the only one that stuck with me in a really positive way was “Instructions”. But more on that later! Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?

“Locks”

Alright, alright. So, this is a well-written poem. I can’t really knock it for what it does technically. It reminded me quite a bit of “The Hidden Chamber” in that it was a very prose-y poem, and I remember quite a few people saying that “Hidden Chamber” read like a kind of paragraph with weird line breaks. I feel like we get the same kind of thing going on here – not in a bad way, just a prose-y one. Anyway, the things (well, thing, really) I liked about this poem had very little to do with the actual Goldilocks-inspired content. I mean, I’m sorry, but Goldilocks was never one of my favorites as a kid, and even less so after I was put in to a HORRIBLE childrens theatre rendition in high school, so that part of this poem was just kind of whatever for me. But I really did thoroughly enjoy Gaiman’s on-going discussion in this poem of a theme he started, I believe, in “Flints of Memory Lane” – primarily, what is a story, how do we tell one, and what do we do with the stories we have? I had to go back and read the introduction, but I love what Neil says about he and his daughter still sharing stories, to this day, although the forms have changed, and I think there is importance in that. With all of the paper v. e-reader debates going on out there, its nice to think that stories will always be stories, regardless of the form they take (is an oral tradition less important than a written work is less important than a movie?) I also think that the camaraderie between the teller of the poem (presumably Gaiman, the way I read it) and this child being told, the answer and response and parental reflections on the way we hear our favorite stories differently as we grow up – to me, that’s where the real value in the poem lies and where Gaiman’s skills really show through!

“The Problem of Susan”

Okay, so I should probably say that right off the bat thus story totally spoiler-ed me on the ending of the Narnia series for me. It’s been one of those series that I’ve read bits and pieces of over the years, and always meant to finish, and it’s not this stories fault I haven’t finished them yet, but still. Totally through me for a loop right at the beginning.

While I really liked Gaiman’s focus on the importance of children’s literature (a belief I fully support!!) and the way he turns Susan in to a professor on the subject, but my enjoyment of the story pretty much stopped there. My mind was too busy dwelling on the spoiler effect and the fact that in this one Gaiman RUINED Aslan for me! I mean, the big majestic lion was one of my favorite characters as a child, and to suddenly see him lewd, sexualized, and eating children…I didn’t like it. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in their somewhere, but I don’t really think it’s one I care to unravel.

“Instructions”

In the introduction, Gaiman introduces thus poem simply as a set of things to do if you find yourself in a fairy tale. How good of a poem premise is that?! This one was my favorite for this week without a doubt. Not only do I love the premise, but I thought the imagery of walking through the house was a really good metaphor for how we read and discover fairy tales (and literature) when we’re young. I did think it was interesting to see another red, imp-ish face knocker, and was kind of wondering if a.) anyone else has noticed that these knockers seem to be a favorite of Neil’s, and b.) this is intentional! Unfortunately I don’t have much else to say about this poem except to repeat how much I loved it and to thank this poem for lightening what was an otherwise very bleak week of short stories!

“How do you Think it Feels”

Okay. So. There are really very few things in literature that bother me. I mean, the dirty bits and naughty language usually just kind of…is to me. A part of life in certain interpretations and representations of life. However, that doesn’t mean that I want Neil Gaiman in particular writing said naughty bits or dirty words. I mean, yes, I know this is the same man who wrote all the beautiful darkness of the Sandman series, but he also wrote Stardust and The Graveyard Book and I would just much rather think of him and his writing that way! I did like what the gargoyle over the heart stood for, but as with “Miss Finch”, I really just feel like I missed something here. A not great ending to a not great week.

In other reading news, I’ve begun reviewing for a new site called Custom Reads that functions kind of as a Pandora radio for books, only with real people imputing books to recommend rather than some functional algorithm. I’m super excited about the opportunity and just really hope it goes well! My public library book sale is also Tuesday of this week (at least, that’s when 5$ bag day is) so look forward to me vlogging (hopefully) my scores from that later this week. Happy reading!

Fragile Things Read-a-Long Week Four

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Hey guys! I hope that everyone out here has seen October dawn as beautifully as it has here in the Midwest. With the exception of one quite toasty day here this week, it’s been cool and sunny and all kinds of wonderful with those glorious changing trees! One of these days, I’m going to make it out to New England for a real fall, but until then I’m perfectly content with what I’ve got! The stories for this week’s installment of Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman were, in my opinion, some of the best so far, although I seem to be among the few who really didn’t mind last week’s stories. This week we’re talking about “Good Boys Deserve Favors”, “The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch”, “Strange Little Girls”, and “Harlequin Valentine”. And while I was totally in love with three of the stories, “Miss Finch” really did nothing for me.

“Good Boys Deserve Favors”

I think I loved this one for many of the same reasons that I loved “Flints of Memory Lane”, because of it’s realism, it’s tone, and a lingering feeling, when done, of something hiding just below the surface. It’s a fictional example, I think, of what Neil does best! However, whereas “Flints” was more about seeing the horror in he minutia of the everyday, “Good Boys” is more about the magic of reality, or at least things that exist in the everyday. At least, I like reading it that way more.

I love the concept of music as magic, of there being almost a literal spirit than can overtake you and produce beautiful music through you. This is, I believe, what happens to the “I” of “Good Boys”, and it’s why he’s able to do

things with the bass that an experienced jazz bass player with hands as big as my head would not have done

I mean, that’s magic in the everyday if I’ve ever seen it. I also think Neil does a wonderful job of creating a character who is so beautifully ordinary, who sounds like I did when I was in the sixth grade and playing the violin in my elementary school orchestra. It’s because of this normalcy that the magic of the music is that much more extraordinary. Truly, I thought this was probably one of my two favorites of the week, and I just hope that everyone else loved it as much as I did!

“The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch

Alright. So. Here is what I got from this story. I’m BEGGING for someone who liked this story to enlighten me: couple eating sushi. Fake name, bitchy lady. Creepy circus-type haunted house freak show. Many rooms. Animals, magic jungle, no more lady.

That’s it! A total, total loss for me.

“Strange Little Girls”

This was definitely my other favorite story of this week. Because I love vignettes. And because I love Tori Amos. And because they succeeded in perfectly creeping me out, right as the weather was cooling off. It was the perfect story at the perfect time and I love when that happens!

I think that some of my favorite prose in the entire collection so fa has been in this story. Take, for example, the seven lines that is the first vignette, “New Age”:

She seems so cool, so focused, so quiet, yet her eyes remain fixed upon the horizon.
You think you know all there is to know about her immediately upon meeting her, but everything you think you know is wrong. Passion flows through her like a river of blood.
She only looked away for a moment, and the mask slipped, and you fell. All your tomorrows start here.

I mean, COME ON!!! That’s gorgeous, and while that’s not all it takes for me to love a piece of writing, it certainly helps. I also loved recognizing so many of the lines from the liner notes of Tori Amos’s CD by the same title. One of my college roommates was a huge Tori Amos fan, and turned me on to the lovely lady herself. She’s been a favorite ever since!

Some of my other favorite vignettes include “Silence”, “Time”, “Heart of Gold”, “Happiness”, and “Real Men”! Hehe 😀

“Harlequin Valentine”

This story was an interesting read for me. I loved it, but it made me sad. I was fascinated, but still get a little lost about the whole commedia dell’arte thing. I tried to wikipedia what I could, but am still having a tough time feeling comfortable saying I understood the full extent of the story. But, the good news and the blessing of it being a Gaiman story is that not fully understanding it didn’t keep me from loving it so, so completely!!!

I loved that the story started with the Harlequin pinning his real heart to the door as a valentine. There is something so grossly romantic about a gesture (emphasis on the grossly!) That he follows her all over town, spinning verse and sweets nothings in favor of his beloved Columbine I think is just the curran thing – there was something that totally drew me to the Harlequin and all if his charming, cocky swagger! 🙂

I also love that, in the end, Columbine and the Harlequin switch places. I seem to have read a number of stories like this recently (most Gaiman’s, some not!) and the idea is just fantastical and creepy enough to work. And here, it’s done with such humor that I couldn’t help but chuckle. The only problem I had with this story, in fact, is what happened after the switch!

The ending to this story was so heartbreakingly sad for me that I’m sure it’ll stick with me for a long, long time. The fact that this once magical, fun, spirited being is now living amongst the mundane, devoid of the skip and sparkle that made me love him so much to begin with. And the very end? When that single red diamond appears on “Pete’s” sleeve?! I lost it! It was so sad that I think that kept it from being one of my favorites. Not necessarily on it’s own merit, but in comparison to the other amazing stories we read this week!

Well, folks, that about wraps it up for my reflections on the fourth week of the read-a-long! In other bookish news, I’m finally going to get around to posting my latest Library Loot, which I actually recorded before Banned Books Week! I’m also glad to say that I have quite the little back-catalogue of books to talk about, so I’m looking forward to catching up on those this week! Thing with me and FBM are good, if boring, and I’m just enjoying the beautiful weather and the fabulous books! Hope that you’re enjoying your Sunday, however busy you are, and that this week is full of happy reading!

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: Read-a-Long Week Three

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I can’t believe we’re already to the third week of the read-a-long! Even though it’s only a once a week post, I feel like the book is just flying by! This week’s stories are “Going Wodwo”, “Bitter Grounds”, “Other People”, and “Keepsakes and Treasures”. All in all, while this wasn’t my favorite week, I had more hits than misses.

“Going Wodwo”

I loved thus piece of poetry! DEFINITELY more than “The Hidden Chamber” and slightly more than “The Fairy Reel”. First and foremost, the poem totally appeals to my love for nature, and the fact that I love sensuous language and imagery in a piece of poetry. I mean, I was literally lingering in images like “I’ll tell the wind my name, and no one else./True madness takes us or leaves us in the wood/half-way through all our lives”. The introduction says that Neil wrote this one for a collection on The Green Man, and while I don’t actually know about that character specifically, Gaiman made magic for me in this poem!

I also think that the poem made some important claims about the importance of nature versus civilization. The fact that, discarding everything from his civilized life (“Shedding my shirt, my book, me coat, my life”) he is able to find the place where he belongs (“I’ll find a tree as wide as ten fat men/Clear water rilling over it’s grey roots/Berries I’ll find, and crabapples and nuts,/And call it home.”) is an incredibly important and an incredibly message to me. Not only do I think that God gave us all the answers and hope we need in the world around us, but I believe it’s up to us to protect and be stewards of our planet. Needless to say, Gaiman got major points from me for this one!! 😀

“Bitter Grounds”

For as much as I was totally enamored with “Going Wodwo”, I was equally as disappointed with “Bitter Grounds”. This, I think, was for multiple reasons. One, I don’t think I understand it. I read it three times and still. I mean, I understand the progression if the plot, but I just don’t get it. Zombies, right? Like, that’s the whole thing with all of it in the end – he runs off and joins the land of the zombies? Or he was a zombie the whole time? See? No idea. The second reason most likely largely pertains to the fact that I was just not jiving with any of the characters. And I mean, like, any of them. It makes it much harder to invest in understanding the story when you don’t care to spend any more time with your protagonist.

That being said, I do think that there were the occasional scary moments throughout the story. When the fake Jackson Anderton returns to the site of the tow truck and finds the car door open, the back window open, and no one in sight, I will admit that I got a little freaked out. And hearing the story of the little zombie girls was a bit…off. But, do those two moments balance out the difficulty of the rest of the story? No way. This one was definitely a thumbs-down for me.

“Other People”

OH. MY. GOODNESS. This story packed so much punch in to it’s three and a half pages was ridiculous. It sucked me in from it’s first line: “‘Time is fluid here,’ said the demon.” I mean, dang y’all. This story was intense. Gaiman’s progression from physical to mental torture, followed by the ultimate transformation into the demon himself is an example of prime narrative structure. I can’t express enough how much I love the concept behind this story, too.

Anyone who has been following my R.I.P. reviews knows that I think that the scariest thugs in the world aren’t supernatural. They’re the things human beings can do to one another. I feel like Gaiman hits this nail so firmly on the head, it hurts:

“Everything he had ever done that had been better left undone. Every lie he had ever told – told to himself, or told to others. Every little hurt, and all the great hurts. Each one was pulled out of him, detail by detail, inch by inch. The demon stripped away the cover of forgetfulness, stripped everything down to truth, and it hurt more than anything.”

All I know is that that sounds like a pretty apt description of hell to me. Another win for Gaiman!

“Keepsakes and Treasures”

I’m not sure how many of those in the read-a-long are going to like this story. But I liked it. I won’t say I love it, because it’s hard to love something so…graphic and, ultimately, sad. But I do think that Gaiman did a great job creating an unlikeable character who I actually kind of liked!

I guess ‘liked’ shouldn’t be the word I use. I don’t really like Mr. Smith, per say, but I think part of me can understand why he is the way he is, given the past and history he comes from. I can sympathize, I guess. And, as disgusting and sad as their work is, I’m glad that these two despicable men were able to find a kind of home and family in one another. Plus, who doesn’t love the idea of a culture made of all women and few men, even if the goal is inky to shelter this one man into perfect, beautiful adulthood! Gaiman also says we’re going to see both Mr. Smith and Mr. Alice again in a later story, so I can’t wait to see how that one might change my opinion if these characters and their story!

Well, folks, that’s all for this leg of the read-a-long! If you’re reading along as well, I hope you were able to enjoy these stories as much as I did. If you’re not, I hope that whatever you’re reading is keeping you up at night with it’s brilliance! Now, I’m off with FBM to our new church home for a good time of food and fellowship (PS: we finally found a new church home! Yay! Hehe) so, I leave you all with peasant reading wishes and autumn dreams!

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!

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman, Read-a-Long Post One

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Oh goodness me, where to even begin with the first post on Neil Gaiman’s wonderful short story collection Fragile Things . For the first installment of Carl V’s read-a-long (part of the wonderful R.I.P Challenge VI) we read the introduction as well as “A Study in Emerald”, “The Fairy Reel”, and “October in the Chair”.

“Introduction”

I have to say that I was initially nervous to be including the introduction, as I’m not usually a big reader of introductions, especially in short story collections. In my experience, they’re usually either vague listings of various awards won, or spoiler-filled gabfests that keep me from actually having to read the story. However, with this story collection I found them to be that way only occasionally. Mostly I loved having the insight in to what prompted Gaiman to write what he did when he did, and as an aspiring writer, I find it extra inspirational to hear the authors I admire discussing their own writing processes. I’ll probably go back and read the different introductions for each story as they come up, though, as reading them all at once did cause them to become a bit jumbled in my mind.

“A Study in Emerald”

This might have been the story I liked least, due entirely to my lack of familiarity with either H.P. Lovecraft or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While I do think that Gaiman did a fantastic job imitating what I always imagined Sherlock Holmes’ voice to be, I just didn’t have enough background knowledge to fully appreciate what Gaiman was trying to do. Interesting enough, both A Study in Scarlet and a book of Lovecraft short stories were in my library loot this past week, so I’m planning on reevaluating this story when I’ve finished both of those!

“The Fairy Reel”

This poem was short but still took me a few read-throughs to fully appreciate. Once I really understood what was happening, however, it became my favorite reading from this section of the collection. Not only was it slightly haunting and macabre, it dealt with a concept that I find especially intriguing – the world of the fairy, existing at the same time alongside and yet detached from our own. Gaiman, I felt, captured this in a way I have yet to see equalled.

“October in the Chair”

I have mixed feelings about this story, and the complicated thing is that neither feeling is bad. I loves both parts of this frame tale. The idea of physical embodiments of the months, as well as the way Gaiman creates those embodiments hinted at a delicious world I wanted to lose myself in it for much, much longer. There is also the inner tale that plays with the themes of the ignored child and what gives horror it’s impact. I can see the early work that made it’s way into Gaiman’s later novel The Graveyard Book , that Gaiman says in the introduction he was working on at the time. The parallels between Bod, Dearly, and Runt are palpable from the moment the story begins. However, as great and scary as the inner story is, my problem with the story as a whole is that I felt short-changed in the part of the story I loved the most, which is the relationship between the seasons, as well as the way the embody themselves. I wanted more – way more – of that!

Well, there you have it! My first contribution on the first four stories (well, three technically) of Fragile Things . He next post will be up September 18th and will cover “The Hidden Chamber”, “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desires”, “The Flints of Memory Lane”, and “Closing Time”! I should also be back later this week with another Library Loot vlog and my thoughts in Stephen King’s The Shining . Until then, happy reading!

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