Monday, June 15, 2015

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

An acquaintance of mine just began a book club and the first book we read was The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

Eight people who know each other to varying degrees sit around a living room, snacking on fresh peas, spinach artichoke dip, and some OMG delicious Wisconsin cheeses, talking about this book for two hours.  And, let me tell you, except for one small diversion about how the guy who lived across the street died from a heroin* overdose and his friend hid in the attic until some came by for a welfare check and that's why that house is up for sale by the shady realtor in town, we seriously talked about the book for the whole time.

Here's what I liked about the book.
1) Gaiman does creepy well. I felt like I was creeped out by the whole thing.

2) Some of the experiences seemed true to childhood.  You do sometimes know a little bit about something, but adults won't explain, and so you fill in the blanks with your own details. Sometimes you do accept the magical because why not it happens in books and movies. You do become a different person when you leave your own house - the person you are to your family is not always the person you represent to others.

3) Food. The descriptions of food made me want to go to the neighbor's house and eat.
Here's what I didn't like about the book.
1) Everything else.

2) Pretty much I hated this book.

3) I don't get magical realism. Pick a lane, authors. You can be fantasy or you can be reality-based. You cannot get to make up the fucking rules as you go along all willy-nilly.

4) Gaiman's writing is not beautiful. I want it to be, I really do. People say I should LOVE Gaiman, but have you ever read any of this aloud?

"I did not want to approach Ursula Monkton: I did not want to risk making my father angry with me.

I wondered if this would be a good time to try to leave the property, to head down the lane, but I was certain that if I did I would look up to see my father's angry face beside Ursula Monkton's, all pretty and smug." 

Thunk. Where's the show instead of tell?

5) Someone last night attempted to defend Gaiman as someone who is interested in plot, not character. That's fine, really, but why did all eight of us read the story to such divergent views?  How come we couldn't agree on basic elements of the plot? How come we still wanted more background information on the (willy-nilly) world?  And don't get me started on underdeveloped characters. Apparently I don't understand British chilliness and I kind of hope I never do (although one of the people last night suggested it was a product of British chilliness and the post-war time period, which I thought was a generous reading and I will now think of it that way).

6) I wanted it somehow be a feminist fable (three women are the "heroes"), but we just never learn anything about them and they just seem like afterthoughts.

So, there you have it. Some folks liked it, some didn't (mostly me and this other lady who was almost as adamantly anti-magical realism as I was), but we had a good talk. 

*Apparently, according to the doctor who works at a local hospital, heroin is a bigger problem in the area of Wisconsin where we live than any other drug, including meth. I had no idea.

1 comment:

  1. So, you CAN make up the rules willy-nilly. Reality is overrated. If you need to, think of magical realism as fantasy. It's not reality-based, so there you go.

    And I do not find Neil Gaiman to be a great writer. Lots of people have suggested him to me over the years and I was really looking forward to reading a book called "Neverwhere" but it was...lame. I think whoever said he cares more about plot than characters hit the nail on the head. But the plot was really weak, too. The main character was just so exhausted but just so magical and in the end she really could solve all the problems of the world despite being in a constant need of her fainting couch.

    So...yeah. Neil Gaiman. I like him in most interviews. Anyway, magical realism RULES!


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