Category Archives: Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of those cult writers who I always think I would really, really like, I just have to read more of his books as so far the number of them that I have read is a little paltry. When it comes to authors of that stature, and being a relative ‘Neil-newbie’, it almost makes me feel fraudulent it write about his latest ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ – one of the most hyped/anticipated/buzzed about books of the year and one I read for the Not The Booker Prize. I am also rather nervous because whilst it is a book I really enjoyed reading, it is one that had a few niggles for me on occasional, let me explain (before all the Gaiman fans come and hunt me down for blasphemy)…

Headline Books, 2013, hardback, fiction, 256 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ is a book about memory and imagination and how these develop or fade as we grow up. It is also a corking story about a young boy, who starts the novel as an old (and unnamed) man, and one particular summer in his childhood when he met Lettie Hempstock. As a young boy his life was quite mundane, he was a bit of a bookish loner, and his family were ‘getting by’. One day they take in a lodger, who runs over the kitten and then kills himself in his car – not a spoiler as this happens very near the start – and it is during this debacle that the young lad finds himself being looked after by Lettie and her mother and grandmother while the police sort everything out. It is at this point that something magical is introduced into his life (at one point quite literally) and it is also when the greatest darkness comes as a new lodger, Ursula Monkton, arrives to change everything for the worse, if she can.

You might roll your eyes at what I am about to write, or think ‘oh for goodness sake why tell us about this book’, but I have to admit all the fantastical elements of this book really didn’t gel so well for me. I really liked Ursula as a villain (though she did feel very similar to the Other Mother in ‘Coraline’ at times) yet I couldn’t conjure her as the tent/marquee/thing that we first meet. I liked the hunger birds very much but the whole worm thing (even though it was brilliantly squeamish) didn’t work for me either. I couldn’t quite get it to 100% form itself in my head. Most of all though I didn’t really get ‘the Ocean’ of the title, apart from just after the denouement when it was so needed – no spoilers – as I didn’t see the point to it overall yet it is the title feature. Also did anyone else understand why the suicide at the start leads to Ursula/the worm/tent appearing? I think I missed that, or maybe it just was there because it was there? So why do, after saying all that especially about the ocean, I then think people should read it? Well…

Firstly when Gaiman writes in the ‘real world’ the book is very emotive, reminiscent and nostalgic. The scene with the bath was actually quite upsetting, as was the whole scene with his dad and Ursula by the fireplace (for some reason that really, really unsettled me). Also the emotions of feeling adults don’t understand you, hating your siblings, feeling a disappointment to your parents was all fully evoked. There is also a certain horror to the book that the ‘younger you’ inside you will be really hit hard by. Interestingly these both involve the dad, one also involving the bath and the other involving Ursula and a wall and things that shouldn’t be seen. Both had a real impact with me and left me feeling quite uncomfortable and also incredibly moved and almost bruised, it is hard to explain.

Then there is also the element of the book that I loved the most; the fact it took me back to my childhood, and I thought that this was what Gaiman was setting out to do, give us as readers a serious case of nostalgia and the memory at the route as to why we love books. All the things that appealed to me most as Simon aged 31 were the things that would have appealed to me as Simon aged 11. I loved the Hempstock’s and could think of one of my Gran’s friends who I thought (and sometimes still do) was a real life good witch, and all those old ladies who had that wry smile and spoilt you who were probably only 50/60 but seemed about 110 years old. I also thought that Ursula Monkton, or anti-Poppins, was a fantastic character I would have loved to have had in many a books when I was a kid. That of course brings up the question is this book a book for adults, for children, both? Should it even matter?

Whilst I don’t think (and here I type almost wincing with fear) it is one of the very best books I have read all year, it was a true delight as it is one of those books that will remind you of your own imagination (which sounds silly but true) and how we must stretch it unquestioningly sometimes as we would when we were younger. This seemed the biggest message I got from the book, to look back at myself and how I felt at a time when anything and everything was possible and hold that memory now all these years later. It is a book that in looking at the narrators nostalgic memories makes you look at yours and I really, really liked it for that.

In ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ our narrator states ‘I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.’ I have found myself thinking about this a lot since I read the book as I wish that the older me could occasionally find the younger me and give myself over to the fantasy side a little more as maybe if I had, with the brilliance of Gaiman’s family drama in this novel and getting lost in the ‘beyond magical’ elements of the book, this would have been the perfect book for me. Which is of course the point of the book I think. One thing I do know for sure is that I must read more Gaiman. Should I head to ‘American Gods’ or ‘Neverwhere’ next? Or another of his titles entirely?

29 Comments

Filed under Headline Review, Neil Gaiman, Not The Booker Prize, Review

Coraline: The Graphic Novel – Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell

I do love the library for the fact that you can try something different. I used to love comics as a kid, particularly ‘The Beano’ and anything to do with Batman. The latter led me onto a real phase of loving graphic novels in my early teens and then when my reading stopped ages about 15 so did my love for graphic novels. In fact I have sort of looked upon them with a mix of ‘well it’s not a real book’ and ‘aren’t I a bit too old?’ So, when I saw it at the library, I thought that a graphic novel version of Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’ might be the way forward, especially as I loved ‘The Graveyard Book’ earlier in the year.

When Coraline moves into a new apartment block, in a rather spooky old building, with her Mum and Dad she starts to get to know the rather unusual inhabitants of the flats surrounding them. You have your stereotypical ‘crazy old man upstairs’ Mr Bobo a retired circus performer who believes that he is training mice/rats to perform in a very special circus all of their own. There are also the delightful retired actresses Mrs Spink and Mrs Forcible who read Coraline’s tea leaves and feel she might be in grave danger, and they could just be right.

In their new apartment during a rainy day Coraline and her mother find a door that opens onto a brick wall, however one night Coraline discovers the door open and a long passage leading into an almost identical apartment in another world. Here she finds she has ‘other’ parents who initially seem to be the parents that Coraline wishes she had, her parents have been very busy since moving and have been spending less time with her, only as she gets to know them she realises that her ‘other’ parents aren’t what they seem, and they don’t ever want her to leave.

I really hoped I would find ‘Coraline’ a wonderfully escapist read regardless of the way it was delivered (be it images and words, as opposed to just words and descriptions normally) and it was just that. I was taken into a weird and magical world or second dimensions, evil monsters disguised in human form, talking cats, crazy old ladies and men and a rather creepy circus. I really enjoyed it; the more I am reading of Gaiman’s work the more I think he is a great writer. I still want to read the book though interestingly. It was a great experience reading the graphic novel, I just think I would have had an even fuller one (maybe a ten our of ten)  if I could have let the images build in my own head rather than on the pages in front of me giving me no option. I don’t think the Coraline in this would be the same as the one I would create myself through my imagination.

A book that will: be perfect if you are dipping a tentative toe into graphic novels, or for anyone who loves any Gaiman they have read already. 8/10

It’s interesting as I think if I hadn’t known there was a book version (which of course I now really want to read – have any of you read the book version of ‘Coraline and Other Stories’?) I think I would have felt completely sated by this; I just now want to read it and see if it has the same effect or a greater one? Batman is different (looking back at my previous graphic novel experience) as I guess I have him engraved on my head from the movies etc from early on. Where would you suggest I head next for a great graphic novel? What other Gaiman novels can you recommend?

17 Comments

Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Graphic Novels, Neil Gaiman, Review

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

I think I must be one of the very last bloggers on the planet to get around to reading this. I am prepared to be honest and say I have had this on the TBR since it came out in hardback and went off the idea of actually reading after seeing everyone going doolally (in a lovely way – I am not being catty) about it on the blogosphere and that making the hype and expectation too great. However its thanks to some of the other guides at Highgate that I ended up picking this up when we were discussing Highgate based books a few weeks ago, like Tracy Chevaliers ‘Falling Angels’ and Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’, and they told me that the latter author took Neil Gaiman around to help with inspiration for this book! How could I not read it after that?

I think any book that opens with the murder of a child’s parents (and in this case sibling) leaving an orphaned boy alone in the world will instantly make a reader think of Harry Potter. It is this such an opening that Gaiman chooses for ‘The Graveyard Book’ however the book then becomes nothing like HP particularly as in this case the orphan who becomes named Nobody, or ‘Bod’ for short, isn’t saved by wizards but by something else a little spookier after evading the murdered and hiding himself in the local cemetery.

Yes, Bod is saved from his fate by ghosts. In fact two particular married ghosts Mr and Mrs Owens, who died without having had children though they always wanted to, take pity on this living young boy and want to keep him, something not all the ghosts in the graveyard feel quite so similar about. However the ‘caretaker’ of the graveyard Silas who agrees to be the boys guardian and so Bod is brought up in amongst the mystery and the dead of the tombstones however he can’t leave as there is still a murder out to get him, but Bod thinks with all the knowledge he gains as he grows up that that particular rule might be for breaking.

I thought this book was really rather wonderful and I wasn’t expecting it which made it all the more so (in fact I was expecting it to have the effect The Hunger Games had on me – best say no more). I loved the atmosphere of the cemetery and think Gaiman had got that spot on. I didn’t quite get the concept of the ghoul-gate and got a little confused but later understood its importance. What I loved the most was the characters. The Owens are a wonderful pair of down to earth and rather soft ghosts, Silas is a cool customer with lots too hide and I loved Liza Hempstock (a witch) and Miss Lupescu too. I thought Gaiman’s touch of introducing each deceased character by their epitaph was a brilliant way of instantly giving you their character.

Lots of readers, and indeed the author himself, have mentioned how this is a retelling of ‘The Jungle Book’ only instead of a jungle you have a necropolis. I personally couldn’t see that myself, but then again I have only seen the Disney version and never read the book, if it’s as good as this (I know it should be the other way around) then I must be missing out.

I mentioned back at the start of my thoughts that reading the first chapter of ‘The Graveyard Book’ I was highly concerned it was trying to be the new Harry Potter, it was the orphaning opening that did it, yet this book is clearly only trying to be itself, nothing else, and by the time I reached the end I was rather annoyed there isn’t a series and therefore not a further six books to read. A book that has a certain magic about it that Gaiman weaves so well. 8.5/10 (This does of course leave me feeling utterly conflicted about ‘cross over books’ once again, ha!)

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners (apart from the two at the top):
Never The Bride – Paul Magrs (spooky goings on with adventure and comedy in Whitby that appeal to our inner child)
The Whitby Witches – Robin Jarvis (one of my favourite children’s books ever and one of my favourite reads full stop, deserves to get a much bigger readership)

31 Comments

Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Neil Gaiman, Review

Not Writing But Blogging…

I know I probably don’t know half of the good book blogs out there in the ether. I have found some I love and there are several I subscribe to or drop in on, which have become favourites of mine and which you can see on the left under Bookish Blogs. What I haven’t really done which I think I will change is added Authors blogs. I don’t know about you but I do love a good blog regardless of the reason, ones by authors telling us how they create their craft and what they are all about sounds like heaven.

The blog that has got this blog started (is anyone else confused by that) is Not Writing But Blogging by the delightful Stella Duffy which I saw when catching up with Dove Grey Reader. Having only used minimal internet time whilst in Barcelona over New Years I had missed the launch of this, and I am sure an invite to the launch party. I have read a fair bit of Stella over the last twelve months and though a new find she is becoming one of my fav’s. Her, Kate Atkinson and Anne Tyler, who I don’t think have blogs sadly. If I am wrong please let me know and I will get reading them pronto. Without sounding sychophantic Stella is also just bloody lovely and her latest novel ‘The Room of Lost Things’ is out in Feb in paperback, do order it now! Anyways authors and their blogs… where are they all?

I know there was a slight snobbery towards book bloggers but authors I like such as Tess Gerritsen, Augusten Burroughs and Neil Gaiman have started them and I read avidly. I was a big fan of Susan Hill’s blog which one day was there and one day wasn’t and so if you know of any please wing them my way and I will get adding them. So that’s all really welcome to a new blogger, and let me know of any more author or just book wise that I am missing out on.

After arriving back from the joys of Spain I am too shattered to write more so apologies. I will say I had an amazing time I didn’t read anywhere near as much of Anna Karenina as I intended and I know its bad but am taking a break from her as had a lovely pile of new books from Vintage when I got home and one I have been wanting to read for ages… so off to bed with it now!

Leave a comment

Filed under Anne Tyler, Augusten Burroughs, Book Thoughts, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tess Gerritsen