I’ve read a few really resonant stories in my life; a handful, maybe, that have stuck with me as I’ve grown up. The details have become fragmented, but I remember feeling a distintive, pure kind of love for a few characters that I’ve never really lost over time. The really good ones — and I think this is one of the top items on my list of things that characterize a really good book — is a memorable character; the kind that has become real in your mind.
There’s a common thread among these titles, in that they all come from the brilliant mind of Mr. Neil Gaiman.
Tomorrow is Neil Gaiman Day.
This is kind of like Rex Manning Day, with the exception that Mr. Gaiman isn’t a sleazy pop star fabricated for Empire Records. He’s my favourite fantasy author, and he’s coming to Montreal to give a talk at the Rialto Theatre to promote his book:
In proper fangirl fashion, I lined up at eight o’ clock in the morning on a Tuesday and got the second ticket available from Drawn & Quarterly, a small book store and publisher in the Mile End, after being tipped off a month prior by one of the store’s employees that maybe, maaaaaaybe, Mr. Gaiman might put in an appearance for something undisclosed in the near future. Never mind the fact that I’ve seen him twice this year; both times at SXSW and once with Amanda Palmer. When Neil Gaiman comes to town and is willing to sign a book or two, I will attend and (in the very least) babble something unintelligible about how The Sandman changed my life and changed the way I read books, and how it sparked a decade-long obsession over comic books, and made me depressed for a week when it was over.
I had the good fortune to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane over a month ago when it was first released. Being the first adult title that Neil has released in some time, I was excited (although Chu’s Day was quite enjoyable. Pandas and catastrophic sneezes are adorable. Makes me wish I had a kid to read it to already… Even if I was dropping hints, mentioning it here wouldn’t be an effective tactic — let me tell you — my boyfriend doesn’t read my blog. He thinks horror is boring and he yawns when I start talking about my manuscript. Oh well. Not every couple can be Steve and Tabby.)
It didn’t disappoint. In many ways, Ocean is a much more honest, vulnerable book than his previous work. It’s a tremulous journey back into childhood where the discomforts of youth are brought up again, and more than once I got a little choked up empathizing with the character. There is a very true distance between the children and adults in this book, and it might be something imagined, or it might be something I felt very sincerely twenty five years ago in my own past when my parents just didn’t understand. Neil draws that feeling out, and it left me feeling defenceless all over again.
That’s a little bit of magic right there. It’s a little wonderful that he can do that with words. It’s wonderful how easy it is to get lost in a book like this for that very reason.
Ocean is about a middle aged man who returns to his childhood home for a funeral and finds his way to a farmstead not far from the house in which he grew up. He wanders through, and finding a pond nestled into the estate’s garden, sits, and recalls a time from his youth where a young girl that used to live there assured him that the pond was not a pond, but an ocean. His memories collect into a richer tapestry than he initially remembered, being back again at that place from his childhood, and soon he begins to recall the events that build their friendship when a man died in a stolen car at the foot of the road, unleashing a darkness that his childhood friend swore to protect him from.
Neil’s work often draws from folklore, and Ocean has a trope that I’ve always been particularly fond of: you see them in the Sandman too: the Kindly Ones, the Wyrd Sisters, the Fates, the Furies; the archetype of the triple goddess as maiden, mother, and crone.
Without ever explicitly stating it, Neil plays to the Three with the Hempstocks in Ocean, again. They are not their Sandman counterparts (the vengeful sort), but they are the familiar mythology with that particular Gaiman-twist that makes it special and believable.
I loved this book, but again after it’s completion I’m touched with that old melancholia again: I’m sorry that it’s over.
When do we get the next Neil Gaiman novel?