Saturday 15 June 2013

The ocean at the end of the lane by Neil Gaiman



 The event

I went to see Neil Gaiman talk about his new book The ocean at the end of the lane so this is both a review of the evnt and a review of the book. Toppings, who organised the event, got a coup as the book isn’t officially on sale until the 18th. 1000 people gathered together to greet the author with thunderous applause once we’d all queued to a) get into the venue and b) buy our copies of the book (queuing was a feature of the evening). Neil was interviewed, did two readings and fielded about 20 questions from the audience and then people queued, some more than 3 hours, to get the book signed, which Neil did graciously and with good humour. He managed to compliment me on my t-shirt, which was nice. Since we queued for around 2 hours I got a good head start on reading the book, surprisingly few people were reading it in the queue though. I was over half way through by the time I got to the head of the queue. What did I learn? That novel length is 40,000 words (thanks to an audience prompt), that lot of companies went bust when Neil started working with them, that things are moving up the chain of command with the adaption of American gods (still my favourite Gaiman) and that Neil Gaiman has a loyal, vocal, dedicated fan base. It’s a very different story to when I went to a signing of Anansi boys in Bath and there were perhaps 20 people in the bookshop!

 The Book

Nobody looks like they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody….. And as for grown-ups…..I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one in the whole wide world….. Except for Granny of course


We are in familiar territory with the book, there are fates (maiden, mother, crone) type characters (although not outright called so), cats (that move the plot along), children struggling with adult themes and a bit of horror. Gaiman said that this started as a short story, that grew into a novellete, that grew into a novella, that grew into a novel at 56,000 words. It is peculiarly of the author, no-one quite like him although there are shades of Chesterton there. It has the usual Gaimanesque themes of the mythic in ordinary objects, the ocean of the title and the Hempstock's, yet this time it is a glimpse of Neil’s private mythology as the book has an autobiographical genesis. The story is suitably horrific, told as reminiscence and therefore through the eyes of a child, yet we adults can interpret things the child narrator doesn’t understand. The plot (no spoilers here – go get your own copy, you won’t regret it) romps along and before you know it you have reached the end of the book closing the last page with a satisfied sigh.


Overall – Great for fans new or old, one of his better novels, recommended.

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