Monday, 12 October 2015

the ocean at the end of the lane - neil gaiman

i totally read a book! i've either been reading things that wouldn't really interest anyone or not reading at all for a few months so i'm very happy to be writing a book review for a change. happy might not be quite the right word though...

it's kind of appropriate that i've just posted my lanark vlog because (don't get me wrong - the ocean at the end of the lane is nothing like lanark) the ocean at the end of the lane is a lot like lanark.  i mean it's not like i read a story, its like i read a feeling.  the whole book is completely infused with pretty much one feeling, which should make it boring, but it doesn't, it makes it completely beautiful. i knew before i read it that neil gaiman kind of wrote this for his wife, amanda palmer (an amazing musician and fascinating human being, please check her out), so i was kind of expecting an unconventional love letter of a book.  and that's not there at all, not a whiff of romance or anything like it, which left me wondering. and it's really only as i've sat down to write this and express it that i realise it works not like a story, but a song.

sorry, i'm writing this in completely the wrong order, first i'm supposed to tell you about the plot: the narrator revisits the place where he grew up, and his mysterious old neighbours, the hempstocks.  as in all good books, this revisiting unlocks a door in his memory, and we discover what happened to him at the age of seven.  which was that his parents took in lodgers, and one of them killed his beloved cat.  then he and his father find the lodger dead in his father's car, and he is taken under the wing of young lettie hempstock, a child like himself, except she isn't. strange, alarming things begin to happen around him, and through his friendship with lettie he is drawn deeper and deeper into a reality that becomes a dream, a myth that becomes a reality, a pond that becomes an ocean. for fuck's sake, it's bad enough as an adult when totally unfair horrible things happen to you, when you are seven you don't even have words for how shit that is. our narrator is so terrifyingly powerless in his own world and the world which invades his own, that a happy ending begins to be unimaginable.

if you asked me to remember being seven, i could recollect only a couple of things. i have a friend from that age, and a school project book. i remember it as basically a happy time. and yet this book is kind of all the terrible, terrible things about being seven, or rather, feeling seven. when adults are unfathomably powerful. when siblings are unnecessarily cruel. when your simple understanding of the world in black and white begins to take on shades of grey, which can be the scariest thing of all.  suddenly in reading i was seven, and utterly miserable. it takes such a special kind of talent for a writer to do all that and make you want to keep reading.

i heard gaiman give a talk about this book when it was first published, so i knew maybe more than i was supposed to.  he talked about why his book coraline, featuring a girl of more or less the same age encountering similarly mythical evil and whooping its ass, is a children's book, and this is not - because children's books need to have hope, he said. so you can draw your own conclusions from that. but if you want a sweet, funny, dark fairytale, go read stardust.  if you want a thrilling, scary kid's adventure, read coraline. if you want an epic modern myth, read american gods. if you want strange, beautiful sadness, read this.

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