Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (by Neil Gaiman, 2013)

I wound up finishing my book I planned to read to and from Boston (note - last night's post on Firebreak) and decided that rather than read the trade paperback I had in my bag, I'd pick up another book at the airport.

I don't know why, exactly, but after a few minutes of perusing the shelves, I was absolutely certain I wanted to read a Neil Gaiman book I hadn't yet read, of which there are plenty, and so I found the one Neil Gaiman book they had on the shelf, bought it, and started it at the gate and finished it by the time we were touching down, with at least a half hour of airplane-nap tucked in there.  So I can tell you - it is possible to read this book between Boston and Austin in a single flight.

The book in question was Gaiman's 2013 novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I believe had won a few awards and was (or is) a best-seller.

This novel is slim by comparison to American Gods and Anansi Boys, the other two Gaiman novels I've read.   I think it clocked at under 240 pages in a pocketbook edition.  The winding, universe-building storytelling you may think of when you think of Sandman or those two novels doesn't really apply here, even if it feels much the same in tone.

Instead, it's a novel of a man of middle years recalling a very few days that occurred when he was seven, sometime in the 1970's, moving from mundane memories rapidly into the extraordinary, and, because it's Gaiman, a hidden world of magic, gods and monsters all living just out of sight of the everyday, but bigger than we could ever imagine.  Which is maybe how all the world feels when a child is 7 years old, and the boundaries between reality and fantasy seem entirely porous.

While I like the wizarding world of Harry Potter well enough, it always seemed a bit like a mix of "well, magic people would do it this way, and it'd be ever so much more special!" and Willy Wonka.  You still had school, you still had sports, you still had newspapers and kids were basically still dicks to each other.  But Gaiman's take of the faeries and shadows has always been a bit more otherworldly, with little explained except in contours and contexts, myths in real-time (as I think the American Gods TV show will adequately).

I hesitate to say much about the book as I literally knew nothing but the name and who wrote it.  Anything I say about the plot will just give away something I enjoyed discovering for myself, and I don't want to deny anyone else the pleasure.  But I do want to say it's a genuine thrill to read a book like this and fall into the world in a genuine fashion.

Now, I've been reading Gaiman since around my 18th birthday - that's about when I picked up my first issue of Sandman, and he's dug some fairly deep trenches into my psyche as far as how I think things work better or best in a story that delves into these topics.  But I know I'm not alone in this thinking if simple book sales are any indication.

So, yeah, it was a good read, and exactly the sort of thing I think I needed in my reading rotation that I might not have known I needed.

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