Read my short review of this short novel here: http://acbrv.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/let-down-by-a-master-of-the-mysteriously-macabre/
Have you read my other posts? Did you know I have a personal blog? Will you check it out? (I suppose I shouldn’t be waiting for a response from you since I have no idea when you will read it)
Adopted mid-westerner, Neil Gaiman’s newest book is a rich form of youthful and mature storytelling. It starts as a Roald Dahl-style exploration of childhood and the distrust that naturally exists between children and adults, and slowly turns into as surreal and dream-like a narrative as I’ve ever read. The villains are scary, the heroes are strong-willed and determined, and the setting is at once familiar and highly stylized. Yet, as the world becomes more imaginative, chaotic and uncontrollable those characters become even more important to hold on to. They aren’t simplistic because this is a kid’s book, they’re simplistic because, when faced with bizarre complications to our world, we can all be forgiven a little more simplicity. Gaiman’s characters are real, consistent and consistently flawed; how they adjust to chaotic settings in our present is amazing.
The simple lessons of children’s fare gives way to a more complicated acceptance of how complex our lives are (even as children). That the main character remains static, unchanging, unable to grow or adjust is a startling choice. It’s hard to write a book in which a protagonist does not grow or learn or undergo a formative experience (just ask some of my 9th grade students, who wrote better short stories than they thought they could, almost in spite of themselves.)
I was disappointed by this one. I suspect I am missing some of it’s charm, but it just seemed sad and disjointed to me.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, was wonderful. Of course, you already knew that, since it seems like every fifth review on Cannonball Read is for this book. It’s magical and scary and heartbreaking and everything good about Neil Gaiman.
I went into this book (actually, I listened to the audiobook, which I highly recommend because Gaiman’s readings are always great) with almost no knowledge of its content. I knew it was a story about a man revisiting his childhood. Honestly, if you haven’t read it, I would recommend going into it blind like I did. Makes discovering the story so much better.
Longtime readers may remember that Neil Gaiman and I have a bit of an up-and-down relationship. Sometimes (Stardust, Neverwhere), he and I are on the same page. Sometimes (Coraline, The Graveyard Book), I have trouble deciding what I think about him. And sometimes (hello, American Gods), I just can’t even. I think a lot of my issues with Neil Gaiman boil down to the fact that I am a geek, and therefore, I am supposed to love Neil Gaiman. And while I think he is a wonderfully talented and imaginative writer, he just might not be the writer for me.
And this is pretty much how I felt while reading TOATEOTL (how’s that for an acronym?). I liked it just fine. I thought parts of it were quite lovely, actually. But did I love it? No. Would I put it at the top of a list of my books of the year? No. But should you read it? Sure. Yes. Indeed.
By now, almost everyone knows the story. An unnamed narrator returns to his childhood home for a funeral. While visiting his former neighborhood, he starts to remember things he hasn’t thought of in 40 years…and the story takes off from there.
Mostly told from the perspective of a bookish, lonely, 7 year old boy, we are soon thrown into a story of memories. And the thing about memories is…are they always completely reliable? Does our now-grown narrator actually believe the things he’s started to remember once he pulls up to the Hempstock farmhouse? Or does he just not want to believe these things, because, really, how could they possibly be true?
I liked the fact that the bulk of the story was told by a 7 year old. I liked his innocence and the complete trust he had in his new friend Lettie. I loved his ability to be bowled over by a delicious piece of honeycomb, when really, he had other things he should have been worrying about. And I loved the pure way that he looked at the world and its people, in a very black/white, good/evil manner.
And to be honest, I liked a lot more about the story. And I found it pretty scary. The stuff with his dad and the bathtub? Terribly frightening. The woman made of pink and grey cloth? Eek!
So what am I so “bleh” about? Honestly, I’m not even sure. But I just don’t “enjoy” the Neil Gaiman experience as much as I would like. This wasn’t a very long book, but I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me over a week to read it. I just didn’t really care. The pages (some of which, yes, were beautifully written), just didn’t call out to me. Sorry.
But I’ll keep trying. One of these days the right Neil Gaiman book might just come along, and I’ll be ready for it when it does.
You can read more of my reviews — Neil Gaiman included — on my blog.
“He wondered how it could have taken him so long to realize he cared for her, and he told her so, and she called him an idiot, and he declared that it was the finest thing that ever a man had been called.”
This is my first time to review a book that I’ve actually read before, though this time I listened to the audiobook instead of reading the novel. I read Stardust for the time in maybe 2005 or 2006. I enjoyed it, as I enjoy all things Gaiman. Then, a few years later, I saw the movie. This has to be the one and only instance I can think of when a movie has improved upon the book from which it was adapted. The film version of Stardust is, first of all, cast PERFECTLY, and in the places where it deviates from the book, it does so in a way that I wish Gaiman had thought of when he wrote the novel.
Anyway, I’ve seen the movie quite a few times but never revisited the novel. I was looking for an audiobook to accompany me on the treadmill, and thought I would read it again. While it’s not my favorite Gaiman novel (Neverwhere), it’s still a great story.
Gaiman set out to write a fairytale for adults, and Stardust was the result. Young Tristran Thorn sets out into the land of faerie to fetch a fallen star for his love, and encounters all sorts of strange and wondrous things along the way.
One note about the audiobook: I love listening to Neil Gaiman talk. I’d listen to him read the phonebook. My only complaint — and it’s a minor one — is that the main character’s name is “Tristran”, and even in Gaiman’s lovely voice, that name sounds like someone speaking through a mouth of marbles. Very glad that the movie adaptation dropped that second “r”!
I’ve started and stopped this review several times. I wanted to pull The Ocean at the End of the Lane apart and put it back together again, because to a certain extent that’s what the book felt like it did to my brain. And I wanted to be able to express that to you – what the moving around of the landscape in my mind to make room for the story of a boy fighting his boyhood foes, and his adulthood ones too, felt like.
I want to talk about how an unnamed narrator can feel like he has a name, and that it’s right on the tip of your tongue, and if you just go back to the book and look it up surely it will be there. And how the world in the novel is so very like the one we’re existing in, with a few fantastical and mythological quirks added in, and what that means to a reader who is not generally a fantasy reader.
Or how you found yourself debating back and forth with yourself whether the Hempstocks were the mother, the maiden and the crone, or if they were the three fates, or if they were simply creatures from another time who were sent to protect our young world, and by default our young protagonist when he finds himself in trouble.
Or perhaps we can talk about the overarching themes of the death of a parent or what it means to become an adult, and if we do. Or if we are simply walking around in adult suits and in some ways forever remain the children we once were.
Or maybe you’d rather have a chat about memory, and what that means. And how we are doomed to forget the things we’d most like to remember. And that we are likely to be haunted by the things we cannot forget, and wish that we could.
Or I could share with you my favorite quote from the book (“You were her way here, and it’s a dangerous thing to be a door.”), and we could discuss how it relates to Neverwhere and have a discussion about how the transitions in our lives can define us more than the times in between, because that’s when we’re under stress and who we really are comes to the surface.
If you want a summary of the plot, you can head over to Goodreads, and if you want some more in depth analysis you can visit The Faintest Inklings post , but I think for now, I’m done wrestling with how to talk to you about this book.
Just go read it, won’t you?
I’m not sure if it’s a credit or detraction to Mr. Russell, the adaptor and illustrator of this graphic novel, that I came away from reading it thinking, “I need to read more Neil Gaiman.” I suppose it could be considered both, but to be honest, it mostly stemmed from the fact that I liked the novel better and was reminded from that feeling that I need to read more Gaiman.
It’s not that this graphic novel is bad. It follows the same story of a bored girl who is looking for someone to play with, something intriguing, and also, people to respect her enough to call her by her real name instead of what they think it is (Caroline). She finds a mysterious door in her family’s new house and then finds a key to the door and goes through it. There she finds the Other world, which is a mirror image of her house, family, and neighbors, but…off. Other Mother has black button eyes, long spindly fingers with razor sharp nails, and just wants to love and adore Coraline and give her lots of rich foods and play with her. At first, this seems mostly cool to Coraline, who’s been looking for this kind of attention, but she soon realizes that getting what you think you want isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But when she tries to go home, she can’t find her parents. Turns out, her Other Mother has stolen and hidden them. The rest of the story is spent with Coraline trying to free them and get her real parents, a black helper cat, and herself back home.
The illustrations are quite creepy of the Other Mother and the Other side, in general, but I found that the way Gaiman described things left me more unsettled than the actual illustrations. The initial charm and subsequent oddness and ultimate fear all kind of blended to me. Seeing how jarring the Other Mother looked right off the bat was something that I think was a little too much for me.
The one thing I did really like was the intricacies in Coraline’s facial expressions. I think Russell did a great job with bringing her to life throughout the book, which is a definite plus since she’s, y’know, the main character. I think my lack of appreciation for the illustrations may just come down to personal preference. But I came away with it wanting to read more Gaiman, and really, that’s never a bad thing.
I read this book on holiday several weeks back. It was a lovely story that I imagine can be sliced and diced and analyzed, which is something I don’t do well. The narrator is a middle-aged man who has returned to the area he grew up in for a funeral. In a paragraph he sums up his adult life: divorced, two-kids, not dating, work is fine. He has a bit of time and drives back to the house he grew up in and the Hempstock’s farmhouse.
As he sits at the farmhouse he remembers events that started with his 7th birthday. He is a lonely child, not one of his classmates comes to his birthday party. He finds solace in books and in his new kitten. I’ve not read Gaiman’s children’s books, but this is a childhood with plenty of darkness, where adults cannot be trusted and his sister delights in being mean to him. His parents have some financial difficulties which cause them to take in a boarder, who has run over his kitten. Shortly thereafter he and his father find the border dead of a suicide.This leads him to the nearby Hempstock home where Lettie and her mother comfort and care for him. Weird things start to happen, like coins appearing in inappropriate places, but the farm becomes a refuge, Lettie and her mum and gran have a magic world that begins and ends within the confines of the farm.
Things get scarier when the narrator’s family takes on a young beautiful housekeeper named Ursula Monkton. The attractive housekeeper torments him, seduces his father and is also a monster from another world that only he can see. His father’s behavior becomes monstrous and it is all that he can do to escape the wickedness that is growing in his household. The Hempstock farm is his refuge, Lettie, Ginnie,her mother and her gran are imbued with magic, they appear to be ageless, having been around since perhaps the beginning of time.
Are his memories real? Did he really grow up amongst magic, or was it his child’s imagination? When he asks “is it true” Mrs. Hempstock answers: “Different people remember things differently, and you’ll not get any two people to remember anything the same whether they were there or not.” I suspect this to be true of the book too, there is so much and so little that happens in this little story that I suspect we all remember it a little differently.
Everyone’s been reading this book, so I’ll keep this review short. I will say that while this was not my first Neil Gaiman experience (I’ve also read American Gods and The Graveyard Book), I think this was the one that caught my attention the most.
With the unnamed narrator, Gaiman explores the scary terrain of childhood, with its lurking monsters and shadows, the uncertainty and the terror of being a child in a very adult world. The prose is breathtaking, and there was more than one passage where my eyes remained glued to the page, greedily absorbing the next sentence. I think the sense of time is well-expressed, and I felt the parts where memory, time, and remembrance converge is very accurate–after all, are our memories reliable? Can we recall our childhoods with anything resembling accuracy? How true are the impressions that we retain?
While this is by no means a children’s story, Gaiman retells the travails and pathways of childhood in a way that is poignant, painful and memorable. It is just the kind of tale for someone who looks back on the world with the longing of a child.
You can read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.