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Fancies and Goodnights

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  478 ratings  ·  62 reviews
John Collier's edgy, sardonic tales are works of rare wit, curious insight, and scary implication. They stand out as one of the pinnacles in the critically neglected but perennially popular tradition of weird writing that includes E.T.A. Hoffmann and Charles Dickens as well as more recent masters like Jorge Luis Borges and Roald Dahl. With a cast of characters that ranges...more
Paperback, 418 pages
Published May 31st 2003 by NYRB Classics (first published 1951)
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These stories by John Collier--who spent most of his career in Hollywood, where he was instrumental in the tone and style of such shows as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone--are marvelous examples of a sort of short story that hardly exists anymore: sharp, satirical, and mordant flights of fantasy where every O. Henry twist is a twist of the knife. The introduction to this NYRB edition (bless the NYRB for all of the out-of-print authors they've been bringing back to light in recent...more
Holly Interlandi
This man is a genius. He can write a story about a man falling in love with a department store mannequin and make it more touching than any romance novel. He's clever to the point of hilarity. His wit makes it feel like he's winking at you between the pages.
The opening to one of my favourite stories, Hell Hath No Fury, goes like this: "As soon as Einstein declared that space was finite, the price of building sites, both in Heaven and Hell, soared outrageously."
Collier's fanciful "fables" make Aesop's seem like
Disney creations. Discomforting, disturbing, his
looney tunes encompassing murder, love, death,
delusion and gender-bending can leave you feeling
like you just banged your head -- badly -- and you
aren't sure of anything. To quote Collier: "How
interesting life is when things get like that!"
I started off really enjoying this collection of stories. They are mostly very short tales, many of which have an ordinary setting but contain some element of the fantastical or macabre; others are more explicitly fantasy, but somehow the style is too traditional and matter-of-fact for the book to really feel like it belongs within the fantasy genre. The main problem that it is simply too long, consisting of 50 stories, and after a while they begin to feel very repetitive. The themes frequently...more
Nicholas During
John Collier wrote short stories like no one else. They are formulaic, always with a twist, usually a husband realizing he's been cuckolded and then killing his wife, mostly violent. I would say more misanthropic than misogynist, though there's a bit of that too.

What makes them great is his objective, clear style than calmly watches as people's lives fall apart within the space of three pages. The Devil arrives and behaves like any young man with lots of confidence, experience, and money. You ha...more
FANCIES AND GOODNIGHTS. (1951). John Collier. ****.
Sometimes I come across books that I’ve never heard of by authors I’ve never heard of either, and wonder where I’ve been all my life. This is a case in point. John Collier (1901-1980) was an English poet, author and screenwriter who was very popular in his day, primarily for his skill at developing movie scripts. Case in point: he was the cowriter on “The African Queen,” along with James Agee and John Huston. He was also the writer of “Elephant...more
Dec 18, 2007 Tracey rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of short stories of the genteel mystery/suspense genre
A pass-along from my mom some time ago, I finally took a look at this collection of short stories.

The reviews on Amazon compare Collier's short stories to Saki or Roald Dahl, but I got more of an early Theodore Sturgeon feel, with perhaps a touch of Flannery O'Connor. The copyrights on the stories run from the early 30's to the early 50's; so the material does feel a little dated at times. However, the dark humour and twist endings make for some entertaining reading.

At least one of the stories...more
Mar 07, 2010 Edward is currently reading it
Knowing these were once acclaimed as models of the genre says a lot about the transient nature of taste, and reassures anyone at odds with the time that fashions may seem monolithic, even hegemonic--but aren't.
Still, I am at least somewhat a creature of my time, susceptible for better or for worse to its tastes... The best these stories might hope for is being resurrected not as a revolutionary alternative to today's dominant ideas of the short story genre, but as simply an alternative, a predil...more
Sep 09, 2007 Tanja rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those enamoured with the impossible, the what-ifs, the blissful comeuppance, the twisted and bended
Shelves: fiction
I grew up reading the stories of E.T.A Hoffmann, and Collier's stories are a more modern version of Hoffmann's romantic masterpieces: fantastic and fantastical, whimsy and witty, comical and terrifying at the same time. Collier has a flair for language, and it is a simple pleasure reading his stories. Most are not more than a few pages in length, but he conveys a lot in a few well chosen sentences. I cannot help but chuckle as I picture his stories in my mind, who knew that the drudgery life of...more
Collier has just entered my personal pantheon of great gripping/uncanny story authors, with Roald Dahl, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson and Patricia Highsmith. Got a nice old used copy of this the other day, and am loving it, and plan to read his 'Evening Primrose' for my Thriling Tales Adult Storytime at the library.
Collier writes short, very intense stories, often making blithe and skillful use of all sorts of fairy tale and fantasy tropes such as angels, devils, demons, mannequins, and anthropomorphised fleas. His best stories are on par with Roald Dahl's short fiction, although a handful of the stories in the "Fancies and Goodnights" collections seem to be random and under-cooked to my taste, almost as if they were exquisite corpse excercises concocted during happy hour with fellow Twilight Zone screenwr...more
I read an earlier edition, which for a while was my favorite gift to give to friends and family. I also used to keep extra copies on hand in case I was invited along to a friend-of-a-friend's birthday at the last minute.

Full of imagination, humanity, and plot twists befitting a writer for The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents (as Collier was), this collection of short stories comes off as one part Evelyn Waugh, two parts Roald Dahl. There are some perfect stories in here, and they will...more
This almost gets a five star. The fifty (FIFTY!) stories in this book are just about uniformly concise and excellent. The whole book has a fantastic-realistic tone, in which midcentury characters might either meet up with a demon or discover their lover's secret, and often both in conjunction. The dry approach works very well here. It's a great book to read in fits and starts on the subway, since you're always only about two pages from the end of a given story.
John Collier's short stories are a potent cocktail of fantasy, horror, and black humor: a seemingly whimsical trifle may nevertheless end with a bone-chilling twist, while a story of cold-blooded murder may be told with a twinkle in the eye. Fans of Saki or Roald Dahl, who both mined similar territory, owe it to themselves to read them if they haven't already.
An English Twilight Zone. Alice In Wonderland grows up. Roald Dahl's wittier brother. Saki's cleverer cousin. The best read I've had in several years. When will NYRB publish more of him? Or find another comparable.
Collier is a genius of the fabulist and imaginative short story. He should be better known than he is today. I have not read all the stories in this book, but the first half is brilliant. Highly recommended!
A very mixed bag — I didn't read every story, but what I read was so kaleidoscopically diverse in tone & invention that 'Fancies & Goodnights' feels like an anthology. Collier's writing is sometimes quite outrageously pulpy, but I smelled a keen intellect behind his somewhat low diction & sensationalism. Which is a nice contrast, actually — he's clearly having fun writing. Something I've never experienced for myself! A lot of the stories have the frame & feeling of Twilight Zone...more
A few pages into this book, I was ready to declare Collier my new favorite writer. He has the delicious wit and dizzyingly addictive enthusiasm of Bradbury at his short best; his way with a phrase is positively Wildeian; when his endings are heat, they're really great.

But after a dozen or so stories, I started to think this collection is a bit less than the sum of its parts. Collier's stories concern the same general types of characters: young men with youthful obsessions, primed for an ironic...more
If I were still deep in my Roald Dahl/Saki/Ray Bradbury/Twilight Zone phase, I would've been bowled over by this book. The stories are extremely odd, stylized (but easy to understand) and clever--most with surprise endings, and many with that chill that the ending of the best "Tales of the Unexpected" gives you. Reading 32 of them in a row, however, is not really the best way to appreciate them. Nearly all are good, but my favorites are the ones that approach horror rather than irony or whimsy o...more
Linda Robinson
This would have been 5 stars if there were a touch fewer plump, doe-eyed sweet things who lead stalwart and righteous young men astray. Many of the stories are deliciously evil, with malevolent parrots, murderous imaginary friends and quixotically devoted couples who bollox every sweet nothing they have. "Over Insurance," "Without Benefit of Galsworthy," and "Thus I Refute Beelzy." are black humor at its finest. Collier writes as though he's hanging out in the 19th century: Jane Austen out on a...more
Roger Mexico
A collection of very short shorts. He reminds me a lot of a glib, droll and light-hearted Borges in his ability to construct a completely credible world within a few pages and how well he suspends disbelief. Erudite, hilarious, odd and surreal. Very "Twilight Zone"-esque (he writes, tongue-in-cheek). If I had to choose a favorite story or two, I'd suggest (in no particular order): "Ah, the University", "Evening Primrose" and "Another American Tragedy". In choosing those three stories, my only in...more
I have read the stories without relating them to one another as I read each in a different time and place. However, many of the stories present the darkest sides of their characters, their vanity and disguised perfection in front of others. the dark comedy is cleverly set at the very end and throughout the story, you would find yourself in the shadows of other stories or classics such as Dr Faustus in the very first one. I need to read it again to give more analysis or reflection but it was def...more
I adored this collection of short stories. Before picking up this book, I'd never heard of this author, but now I'll look for his other work. There stories are full of the very odd - e.g., men who find themselves strangely and unexpectedly turned into plants, strange inhabitants of department stores, and love affairs with mannequins. Of course, not every story grabbed me, but there were enough germs to make this a fast and highly entertaining read. I've shared the book with my mother and am look...more
Kim Dallaire
I wrenched this book out of Mike’s hands as soon as I found out it was being compared to Roald Dahl. If you have read and enjoyed “Lamb to the Slaughter”, the short story by Dahl, you will adore this book. A collection of short stories (3-12 pages each, ish), it is a fun ride through Hollywood, hell, suburbia and downtown. It has fleas in love, myriad murders, strange and unusual destinations and tons of fun. It is comparable to Roald Dahl for darkness and to Stephen Leacock for social satire. I...more
My dad recommended it to me after seeing that I was pretty into Ray Bradbury's short stories. As such, I did really enjoy this collection mostly because it captures the feeling of the time period. Most of Collier's short stories take place in the 1950s and I enjoyed the feel of each story because of that. Fancies and Goodnights , has a great blend of genres, I commend for how nicely he blended the supernatural into a slice of life type of story. Overall, I did like this book and I might find som...more
Aug 04, 2011 Helen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Who is interested in not offensive fiction
Recommended to Helen by: Lucky find
Shelves: classic-fiction
Quite original, soft short stories from 30s-40s. Well worth of reading a couple of times. What attracts me in this type of books: original ideas, variety of story lines instead of one voluminous novel, and decency of descriptions - one doesn't want to go and wash oneself as after reading a random modern fiction book from the public library.

For me it associates more with gentle Arthur Conan Doyle than with sharp O'Henry or black humor Prachett, and much softer than Hitchock. Try it, there is some...more
It is surprising that John Collier isn't better known as these stories are extremely original and create a world where anything can and in fact does happen. Collier's fertile imagination is both zany and as cruel as anything in fairy tales. In one example a carnivorous cactus absorbs then reproduces its prey in a fantastic tale that is both sinister and funny. If Hieronymous Bosch had been a writer he may well have been capable of some of these imaginative excesses. Highly enjoyable.
I've started in this months ago, and it will take me a while to finish. This is an ideal collection to dip into every now and again. I can't better the NYRB's own description of their reissue (, except to say it's very enjoyable. It's 'light' literature, Collier is no Chekhov. But he's very good at what he does, very effective and efficient with his means. And, quite simply, entertaining.
I read a good chunk of this, not quite half but approaching that, and then decided to stop. They are very clever stories, competently written, often with a good twist, but only that, about the idea and the twist and the cynical view of life, not about the actual people or any new ideas. A few were fine, coming across one in an anthology of other work might even be a pleasure, they do glitter, but I had no interesting in another 200 pages of the same.
Haven't finished it yet. The only reason that this doesn't get 5 stars, and i mean the *only* reason, is the fact that the stories are so short you have to take breaks after every few - otherwise it's just binge-reading, and that is WRONG, especially with writing so exquisite, stories so delightfully nasty and naughty, and humour so pervasive.
Actually, i *will* give it 5 stars. Heed the warning though.
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NYRB Classics: Fancies and Goodnights, by John Collier 2 6 Oct 24, 2013 04:44PM  
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John Collier was a British-born author and screenplay writer best known for his short stories, many of which appeared in The New Yorker from the 1930s to the 1950s. They were collected in a 1951 volume, Fancies and Goodnights, which is still in print. Individual stories are frequently anthologized in fantasy collections. John Collier's writing has been praised by authors such as Anthony Burgess, R...more
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