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Posts Tagged ‘British Fantasy Literature’

I have read a couple of Neil Gaiman books before – ‘Neverwhere’ and ‘Coraline’. Actually the edition of ‘Coraline’ I read was the graphic novel adaptation of the novel, but the prose in it was very similar to that of the novel (I checked, before buying). I liked both of them. I didn’t know that Gaiman’s new book had come out this year till I started seeing it in bookshops and in Goodreads and on friends’ reading lists. I like Neil Gaiman – very much – but I don’t love him. He is not my favourite writer. This is a very odd thing. Because I liked both the books of his that I read and I also enjoyed the film version of ‘Stardust’ and I spent a fortune acquiring the fancypants edition of ‘The Sandman’ (it is one of my alltime favourite unread editions (I hope to remedy the ‘unread’ status sometime) – I, who don’t really take care of my books well and allow them to gather dust, have kept it carefully, wrapped in cellophane paper in a dust free environment – and I hope, one day, to read ‘The Graveyard Book’ and ‘American Gods’. All this should be enough for a writer to become a favourite, but for some reason Gaiman hasn’t made that invisible leap across that vague, deep chasm which separates my ‘likes’ from my surprisingly-near-but-impossibly-hard-to-reach ‘loves’. It is very difficult for me to articulate why. I can only hope that as I continue to read Gaiman, one day he will make that leap.

The Ocean At The End Of The LaneByNeilGaiman

So, to cut a long story short, when I got to know about ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ I didn’t really go out and buy it and read it on the same day. I knew that I would read it sometime, but I postponed that moment and forgot about it. Then I read Delia’s (from ‘Postcards from Asia’) charming, unconventional review of the book and then I realized that I had to read it. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.

 

The basic story told in ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ goes like this. A middle-aged man, who is the narrator of the story, returns to the place of his childhood. Then he stops by at the house of his old neighbours, the Hempstocks. Surprisingly they still live there after all these decades. He is looking for a woman who is closer to his age, called Lettie, who he used to know when he was a boy, but she doesn’t seem to be there. Her mother (or is it her grandmother – our narrator is not able to tell) asks him to wait near the duckpond at the back of the house, while she makes tea. And then, suddenly, his old memories start coming back and he remembers the time when he spent a few days at the Hempstocks’ place when he was a child and the strange things that happened then – how the paying guest staying at his home committed suicide which opened a Pandora’s box and brought otherworldly beings to earth and how they played havoc and how one of them entered his own home and how he had to escape her and go to the Hempstocks’ home and how he discovered that though the Hempstocks – a grandma, a mother and a daughter – looked like simple farm people they had magical powers which he couldn’t explain and which they used to help him – well to know what happened next, you should read the story.

 

Gaiman’s story is an interesting, fast paced, gripping fantasy. It can be read by readers of all ages and depending on the way we read we can enjoy it in different ways. I was happy to see references to the Big Bang, wormholes, creation of the moon and girls born without biological fathers (is Gaiman getting feminist here?). It is also about how strangers help us in very important, life-altering ways when we are children and how we seem to forget about them when we grow up. The three women characters in the story made me think of the three women in Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’. In between, Gaiman offers his own commentary on the child and adult way of doing things, and not surprisingly, inspite of being an adult for quite a while, we identify with the child’s way of doing things. I loved the Hempstocks and I loved the black kitten / cat with the white mark on her ear. The story is gripping from the beginning to the end and makes one want to turn the page to find out what happens next. It made me think of Stephen King. The book is short, at 243 pages, and I was sad when it got over.

 

Well, now I should get another Gaiman book to read, or maybe open that wrapped package of ‘The Sandman’. It is time, I think.

 

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

 

‘That’s the trouble with living things. Don’t last very long. Kittens one day, old cats the next. And then just memories. And the memories fade and blend and smudge together…’

 

Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.

 

      ‘I bet you don’t actually look like that,’ I said. ‘Not really.’

      Lettie shrugged. ‘Nobody looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody.

 

She really was pretty, for a grown-up, but when you are seven, beauty is an abstraction, not an imperative.

 

I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.

 

      ‘How old are you, really?’ I asked.

      ‘Eleven.’

      I thought for a while. Then I asked, ‘How long have you been eleven for?’

      She smiled at me.

 

Have you read Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’? What do you think about it?

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