In the realm of authors who write highly imaginative but somewhat dark fiction, no one compares with Neil Gaiman.
Gaiman has written an impressive number of adult novels, short stories, juvenile and young-adult fiction, nonfiction accounts, television episodes and even comic books. In the comic book world, he is particularly well known for his long-running series “The Sandman.” One of his novels, “Coraline” (HarperCollins, 2002), was made into a popular movie in 2009. His novels have won countless awards – he is the first author to win both the Newbery award and the Carnegie medal for the same book, “The Graveyard Book” (HarperCollins, 2008). He recently won the British National Book of the Year award for “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” (William Morrow, 2013). He was born and lived in England for many years but currently resides in Massachusetts.
All of the Gaiman books and short stories I have read have been wildly creative, and “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is no exception.
The book opens with the account of a middle-aged man who, while traveling to his childhood home to attend a funeral, steals away after the service to see where he lived for a short time as a small boy. His memories of his experiences there are vague, but as he sits by a small pond on a neighbor’s property, he recalls with perfect clarity the astonishing events that occurred when he was 7 years old.
At 7, the unnamed protagonist meets an 11-year-old neighbor girl, Lettie Hempstock, who lives in a highly unconventional household of women. As readers are drawn ever deeper into the story of this remarkable family, we learn that Lettie’s mother and grandmother are both more powerful and magical than anyone could imagine.
I don’t want to spoil the events that unfold, but Gaiman’s descriptions of these characters and situations are wonderful: “Lettie Hempstock looked like pale silk and candle flames. I wondered how I looked to her, in that place, and knew that even in a place that was nothing but knowledge that was the one thing I could not know. That if I looked inward I would see only infinite mirrors, staring into myself for eternity.”
Evil lurks in most of Gaiman’s stories, and his monsters and strange beings are magical and often quite powerful. All of these signature forces and characters are present in “The Ocean at the End of Lane.” Many of his characters seem familiar – like creatures you read about in fairy tales or in mythology, horror or fantasy books. Clearly, Gaiman has been quite influenced by all of these genres – he is, after all, the coauthor of the book “Lovecraft’s Monsters” (Tachyon, 2014), which describes the most famous monsters in the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
Gaiman’s dark fantasy will surely appeal to book clubs that enjoy fantasy, science fiction and horror selections.
Leslie Ashmore is a longtime Mountain View resident who belongs to two book clubs.