Tag Archives: American Gods

He’s Gone and Done It Again – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

TheOceanattheEndoftheLane_Hardcover_1359996597Neil Gaiman has gone and done it again.  I thought I was finished being impressed with him after I finished Fragile Things.  Apparently, I was wrong…like really, really wrong. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about growing up, wanting to keep some of that childlike wonder, sacrifice, human nature, friendship and family.  It is about … life.  To begin, there’s a pond that’s really an ocean, a farmhouse where the moon is always full on one side, a very “normal” type of family, and the Hemstocks.

The storytelling, oh my gosh, the storytelling in this book.  You just get drawn in and you don’t want to leave.  (Well actually in some of spectacularly creeptastic parts you REALLY want to leave, but you can’t because you absolutely have to know what’s going to happen because the protagonist is seven….SEVEN, and what seven year old actually does what you expect?)  However you don’t leave, because well, you’re reading Neil Gaiman.  If he has a book that doesn’t leave you, at some point, distinctly unsettled and/or deep in thought about something…well….I haven’t found it yet. (Don’t worry.  I’ll keep reading, just in case.)

Me, I like a good fantasy book, so I’m used to suspending reality, for a while, to live in the world the authors create for me.  Usually, I don’t think about the whys or wherefores so much.  I’ve started paying attention though.  Who better than Mr. Neil Gaiman to pay attention to WHY I’m willing to believe that his world is THE world for a while?  The stories I like the best these days are the ones that take the world we live in and twist it just a bit.  Think American Gods here, a whole different world layered over our own, sometimes one that “normal” people never see.  Kim Harrison, with the alternate world that changed because of tomatoes.  Laurell K. Hamilton’s St. Louis where vampires have been given the same rights as humans by the Supreme Court.  They make you think about possibilities long after the book is closed, and real life has intruded again.  The magic of “what if”.

The protagonist in The Ocean at the End of the Lane  is a seven year old boy. (I may have mentioned that earlier…once or twice.)  Children are amazing little people, aren’t they?  Watching them learn about the world is an experience, wonderful, hilarious, and just plain weird in turns…and sometimes all at once.  Everything is … data.  (Have you ever used a…socially unacceptable for a two-year-old word…in front of a two-year-old?  They zoom in on that thing like a heat seeking missile, and they think this is the best word they have ever heard.  It is repeated incessantly…in front of the most inappropriate people…like the pastor, their grandparents, or your boss?  Let me tell you about The List sometime.  My niece and nephew wanted to have a shirt printed for me that said “That’s on The List”) Each bit of information they absorb informs them of what the world is, and I think what makes this book and this particular twist on the world so believable.  This childhood ability to adapt a viewpoint of the world, based on new experience. Some things are still fluid, at seven.  Our protagonist isn’t a little kid anymore, but he doesn’t struggle as much as an adult against a set idea of what is “supposed to be” either.  He sees some pretty wild and crazy stuff, but his friend is there.  She isn’t scared, so it’s okay.  There are some things our protagonist is certain are absolute truths, (I mean, I know a few seven year olds who are convinced they know EVERYTHING, don’t you?),but even these get shaken a bit.  Eventually, he’s just taking things as they come, rolling with the punches… it is all just data.  Your friend shows you an orange sky? Weird, but it is right there in front of you so, okay. Adults struggle more to accept sweeping alterations to their perception of the way things really are.

Autographed Ocean

The fantastic events that happen in The Ocean at the End of the Lane are not unbelievable because the character believes.  The fantastic is in turns disturbing, creepy, unsettling, and sometimes beautiful.  The truly scary parts, for me, came from the purely human.  It gave me goosebumps.  It still gives me goosebumps.  It takes some of those vital absolutes our protagonist has and … shakes them up, makes them less certain.  One of his absolutes turned to vapor.  Just.  Like.  That.

During my recent opportunity to attending a reading and book signing, where I got my very own copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane signed, I discovered that Neil Gaiman wrote this novel by accident.  That’s right ladies and gentlemen, this started out to be a short story for his wife, Amanda Palmer.  Then it became a novelette.  As it became longer, he said that he resigned himself to it being a novella.  Finally, he says he had to send an email saying that he had accidentally written a novel.  Maybe this is what they mean by “happy accidents.”

For all this is an “accidental” novel, there isn’t a wasted word in this beauty.  It is filled to the brim with everything that you love about reading Neil Gaiman.  I found no passages, paragraphs, scenes or even sentences that dragged. Everything has weight here.  Everything has meaning.

First Lines:

It was only a duck pond, out at the back of the farm.  It wasn’t very big.

Lettie Hempstock said it was an ocean, but I knew that was silly.  She said they’d come here across the ocean from the old county.

Her mother said that Lettie didn’t remember properly, and it was a long time ago, and anyway, the old country had sunk.

Old Mrs. Hempstock, Lettie’s grandmother, said they were both wrong, and that the place that had sunk wasn’t the really old country.  She said she could remember the really old country.

She said the really old country had blown up.

‘Til Next Time,

Jessica

Advertisements

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

photo (78)I bought Fragile Things several months ago and it sat in my to-read pile for a while.  Then I pulled it out and started to slide slowly down into the short stories and poems in this collection.  This is the book that I decided, with your help (Thank you SO much!), to have Mr. Gaiman sign for me.  When I chose this I hadn’t finished reading it.  I’d maybe gotten halfway through when I left it on a plane….yep, I left the sucker on the plane on my way back from Houston.  What’s a girl to do?  Well, this girl will take ANY excuse to go to the bookstore, so I bought another copy.  Fortunately, I had time to read it before the signing, and was exceptionally sure that Fragile Things was the representation of his writing that I needed him to sign.

I know it is already a bit battered (multiple plane rides, states, and bags will do that to you…I mean to a book, right, a book.)  There was a moment of embarrassment over the state of the book that I was asking him to sign for me, but I thought about how I would feel if I were an author. (This not an atypical occurrence for me.)  Worn means read.  Thumbed through, sections underlined, notes in the margin…loved.  Some books are like The Velveteen Rabbit, the love you show them is reflected on the outside.  Now, I can’t say that I know Neil Gaiman, but he seems like the type of guy to understand that.

I can usually skip the introductions, but I really enjoyed the insight the introduction gives the pieces in Fragile Things .  Mr. Gaiman, in his short stories especially, does not only a supremely decent job of creeping me out but also of surprising me.  They are dark, humorous and…twisty.  The poetry though…I do so love a good poem, and this was my first exposure to any written by Neil Gaiman.  The poems in this collection are filled with grace and beauty and a darkness that slowly encompasses you, rather like someone dimming the lights slowly instead of plunging you into the dark all at once.  The flow and the imagery are just gorgeous.

My mother is a true connoisseur of poetry.  If you give her the choice between a novel and a collection of poetry, she’ll pick the poems every time.  She even co-opted my Norton’s Anthology of Poetry from college. (She said she should get to read it too.  She did pay for it after all.  She has a point.  Now, ahem years later, she still has it.)  My Grandma Joye, her mother, wrote poetry, maybe that’s where this love comes from.  Compared to her, I dabble a bit, but I do know what I like.  I like what is in Fragile Things.  I read my Mom a couple of them.  (Isn’t poetry so much better when you read it aloud?)  She thought they were beautiful.  My nephew thought they were weird and creepy, he’s 12….he’s not wrong either.

When I was at the book signing for The Ocean at the End of the Lane someone asked me which story was my favorite.  I really hate that question.  TheOceanattheEndoftheLane_Hardcover_1359996597It is like choosing a favorite child or something.  Me, I’m the person that every third song on the radio is a favorite song, and there are too many books that I love…all for different reasons.  Who can choose a favorite?  Actually, I read a quote from Neil Gaiman that I find to be absolutely true,

“Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.”

Some of the pieces in this collection, like A Study in Emerald, I’d read before online on Neil Gaiman’s website.  It is a Sherlock Holmes meets H.P. Lovecraft kind of piece.  What?  Yes, you totally read that right.  Even though I’d already read this online, it was definitely worth a re-read, and it was even more intriguing the second time around because I’d recently read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet and watched the BBC Sherlock episode A Study in Pink…well, I watched it a few times. (There are only six episodes!  This deserves a post all its own, and I promise it will get one…you just have to wait a bit.)  A Study in Emerald definitely had its surprising, creepy, and surprisingly creepy moments, let me assure you.

So, Other People is about a guy that goes to hell and the demon he meets there.  I found it to be absolutely fascinating and thought provoking. October in the Chair is a story inside of another story….just read it.  Instructions is fantastic, and I love the reassurance (or warning?) that is included:

“From the back garden you will be able to see the wild wood.

The deep well you walk past leads down to Winters’ realm;

there is another land at the bottom of it.

If you turn around here,

you can walk back, safely;

you will lose no face.  I will think no less of you.”

How to Talk to Girls at Parties is told from the perspective of a sixteen year old boy who gets dragged to a party that isn’t what either of them think it is.  Every time I read it, I really want to know what happens to upset Vic that way, don’t you?

photo (77)Then there’s the piece that closes the collection, The Monarch of the Glen, that stars Shadow from American Gods.  It was good to see Shadow again.  I didn’t realize until the opening paragraphs that I’d missed him.  Really good characters are like that, you need to visit them every now and again.

I could go on and on about the pieces in this collection.  There are so many things to say! Strange Little Girls, Keepsakes and Treasures, Sunbird (oh, you have to read this one!) and so many others that I didn’t want to leave out and couldn’t find space to describe.  Just read it, and you’ll understand.

Some short stories or short story collections I read and I feel cheated out of a novel.  I’m left wanting more, as if this is only enough to whet my appetite…an appetizer instead of a meal.  Fragile Things is a meal in itself…at least three courses, maybe four, and I certainly didn’t close the cover feeling unsatisfied…maybe a bit disturbed and unsettled.  However, if we wanted puppy dogs and sunshine…of the normal sort, we wouldn’t be reading Mr. Gaiman, now would we?  I’m sure that Neil Gaiman could happily write about puppy dogs and sunshine but the sunshine would be a winter sun, cold and wan, and the puppy….well that wouldn’t be a normal puppy at all.  The last time, it was a Hell-hound trapped in the body/attitude of a little dog … who knows what he’d think of next, and that’s why we love him.

This week’s “first lines” is a little bit different.  I picked two  Feeders and Eaters and Going Wodwo for a bit of a sneak peek.

FIRST LINE:

Feeders and Eaters

“This is a true story, pretty much.  As far as that goes, and whatever good it does anybody.”

Going Wodwo

“Shedding my shirt, my book, my coat, my life

Leaving them, empty husks and fallen leaves

Going in search of food and for a spring

Of sweet water.”

‘Til Next Time,

Jessica