Monday, July 29, 2013

Staff Pick - The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (M) by Neil Gaiman is likely to be amongst my list of favourites for 2013. It is a modern-day fairy tale for adults that leaves you feeling uncomfortable but is so compelling that it demands that you read the book in one sitting.

An unnamed narrator returns to his childhood village in order to deliver the eulogy at a funeral. He drives to where his house once stood and is drawn to a house with a pond at the end of the lane. As he encounters familiar landmarks he is flooded with memories of the three generations of Hempstock women who lived on the farm. We are taken back to when he was a boy of seven and the distressing events which he had forgotten. It all began with his family’s reversal of fortune when they were forced to take in lodgers in order to maintain their home. One lodger, a South African opal miner, first ran over the boy’s beloved kitten and then, in despair for his financial misdealings, committed suicide in the family’s car. A malevolent force, kept in check by the Hempstock women, heard his tortured lament and, in a misguided attempt to help, unleashed a series of terrifying events.

The story begins with the boy’s seventh birthday party to which no one shows up. He is a solitary bookish child who does not appear to mind this, however the stage is set and you are already feeling distressed for him. In the style of Enid Blyton’s (M) children, the boy is resourceful and clear sighted while the adults around him seem shadowy, absent, incompetent and finally downright dangerous. The boy unwittingly unleashes the evil onto the physical world and faces the fear of an unexpurgated Grimm fairy tale as his father becomes a physical threat to him and he has no one to turn to beyond the Hempstock women.

I don’t want to give any more away, but I do highly recommend this frightening and rewarding story about memory, forgetting, trust and redemption.

Gaiman’s latest brings to mind John Connelly’s The Book of Lost Things (M). High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother. He is angry and alone, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness, and as he takes refuge in his imagination, he finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a land that is a strange reflection of his own world, populated by heroes and monsters, and ruled over by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book... The Book of Lost Things.  An imaginative tale about navigating the journey into adulthood, while doing your best to hang on to your childhood.” publisher

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