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Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the LaneUnknown-1

by: Neil Gaiman

Harper/Collins New York, NY  2013

ISBN:978-0-06-225565-5

The latest novel from Neil Gaiman continues the theme of searching for identity common to MirrorMask, American Gods and many of his other works.  It has the same mythic scope and the ability to make us question the boundaries of our own reality.

The story is told in the first person and is written almost as a memoir.  The main character and narrator is back in his childhood haunting grounds “escaping” from a funeral.  He wanders back to an old friend’s farm and sits by the small pond she called her ocean.  The body of the story unfolds as he remembers back to his seventh year.

I was charmed by this book, even in its darker moments.  I too had a childhood landscape that was marked by pathways leading to “other” places and objects that appeared different than what I knew them to be.  The child in this story is led through the landscape by his new friend Lettie, who is eleven to his seven.  Lettie lives on the farm with her mother and grandmother where they have lived forever.  The farm is listed in the Domesday Book and occasionally Lettie makes a comment that leads the reader to wonder if forever isn’t literally descriptive.

Unlike American Gods, the mythology Gaiman draws upon isn’t laid out in neat pieces.  Unlike Mirror Mask it isn’t hidden away in the magic and mirrors of carnival entertainment.  These are the figures of the land and if you know the land, you know the stories.  Otherwise they are just those folks who’ve always been there, forever.  The things that become so familiar no one but the children ever look twice.

When we return in the tale to the day of the funeral the memories that have been reclaimed stay with our narrator, at least for a moment.  He recognizes the woman who greeted him, not as Lettie’s mother aged but rather as the Grandmother just as she always was.  He wonders if, when Lettie comes back to the farm, she will still be eleven.  It’s the question he asked her as a seven year old, not just how old was she but “How long have you been eleven?”

The dedication to this book is to Gaimen’s wife and performing artist Amanda Palmer.  The implication is that he wrote the book because she wanted to know something about his childhood.  Indeed Gaiman drew heavily on his childhood home and the country where he grew up.  He leave us to wonder how much of the mythic was a part of his childhood as well.  Especially since the main character is left with a scare where his heart was touched by the “other world” that would never quite heal over.

This too is mythic.  Those who wander into the realm of Fairy and who survive to find their way out often spend the rest of their lives searching for a means by which to return.  For Gaiman, clearly his means is in his writing.  Thankfully he seems willing to take some of the rest of us with him as he goes.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2013 in Fantasy, Memoir

 

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Unnatural Creatures

Unnatural Creaturesunnatural creaturees

Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman

HarperCollins New York, NY  2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-223629-6

This is technically an anthology, a collection of short stories from all kinds of different authors.  What makes it interesting is that most of the stories were collected for the piece.  There are a few though either written for the collection or at least published here for the first time.

The contributors are as varied as E. Nesbit (story first published in 1900 and known for her children’s fiction), Larry Niven (story first published in 1969 and known for science fiction), and Gahan Wilson (story first published in 1972 and known as a cartoonist/ illustrator).  The oldest piece in the collection was originally published in 1885 by Frank Stockton, known for his fable The Lady or the Tiger.  If you know the fable that gives you a sense of the tone of the collection.

This book is classified as teen fiction.  That seems appropriate in the sense that the stories are neither gory nor particularly sexual in content.  They do, however, all have a dark edge.  Many of them would find themselves comfortable in the world of television’s Grimm.

As a reader, I found the variety in this collection delightful.  Some of these stories I recognize, having read them in other places, but many were new to me.  Even those I knew brought a smile to my face as I read them again.  These are talented writers in a very open genre.

Neil Gaiman is a frequent traveler to the strange worlds of fantasy fiction.  He brings his British sensibilities to his choices as well as his literary understanding.  It is rather amazing that this hodgepodge of stories fits together so neatly, but it works.  The ubiquitous introductions to each story are very short and tend to reflect the style of writing in the story to come.  This genius is part of what makes Neil Gaiman the perfect editor of this collection.

If you are an aficionado of the old style fairy tales; If you prefer your Grimm’s Fairy Tales in the original format rather than in the Disney version then you will very much enjoy this book.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2013 in Fantasy, Fiction, Teen Fiction

 

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Chu’s Day

Chu’s DayUnknown

Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Adam Rex

HarperCollins NY, NY

ISBN: 978-0-06-201781-9

I picked up this book because I’m fond of Neil Gaiman as an author.  He does use an amusing word play as Chu seems to have a tendency to sneeze.  Warning us, the book begins “When Chu sneezed, bad things happened.”

Generally in books like this I find a simple theme developed and repeated in variations five or six times before the climax.  Often the pages then turn the story around and go backwards through those variations with repercussions.  The classic example of this is Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.  Gaiman has simplified this formula in the extreme making this a very short children’s picture book.  He uses the principles of comedy one, two and the punch line on three.  The story turn around is done entirely in pictures.

As it is a children’s picture book it is really the illustrations that sell the story.  Adam Rex seems to use an illustration convention that is quite unique.  When the story is “telling” about Chu, the panda’s day the pictures are stark and set against a white background like many science based photo picture books.  When the story is “showing” Chu’s day the pages are filled with color and whimsical animal characters.

This might be a fun book for very young children suffering from colds or hay fever.  I could see exploring the details in the illustration with a child while reading to them.  It would be fun to ask, “what could happen if you sneezed like Chu?”

This is no great piece of literature.  I would be thrilled to see it in every pediatric waiting room.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Children

 

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