Julie’s Book Club: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lanegaiman ocean

I’ve been a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work since I started reading The Sandman graphic novels in my teens. I’ve read most of his novels and short story collections, and when The Ocean at the End of the Lane came out last year, I knew I’d get my hands on it sooner or later.

This is a quiet book that wraps around you and pulls you under softly, slowly, with barely a splash. It opens with the unnamed protagonist avoiding the wake of a funeral. He drives down a country road past the plot that once belonged to his parents, onward to a farm that stirs in him memories of an extraordinary and terrifying event from his childhood.

Gaiman has used the triple goddess, Hekate, the fates, the three furies, etc., time and again in The Sandman, as well as in other works. In this novel, they become the closest thing to friends that the narrator has for a brief period after his seventh birthday. Lettie Hempstock, the youngest of the three, becomes his savior when he unleashes something bad into the world after witnessing the suicide of his parents’ tenant.

The gravity with which the story is told, and the concrete details of the protagonist’s childhood, lend it the feel of being completely factual. I think every adult reader could pick this book up and leave it with a sense of dread surrounding events of their own childhood. Because terrible things do happen to children, and then the world moves on, and those things leave their mark on us.

There was a passage I searched for in the book, after finishing it, that I couldn’t seem to find, so perhaps it was an observation I made while reading instead. Whichever the case, one of the saddest feelings this book left me with was that everyone is a little bit broken, but our adult world doesn’t treat people gently to compensate for that.

This is definitely a book that sits with you and invades some of your private thoughts. It’s not a feel-good read. It might leave your life a little sadder, but hopefully a little more contemplative.

Julie’s Book Club: 12 for the New Year

I’m cheating a little this time and instead of reviewing a book (the book I ordered has not found its way to me yet…) I am going to look ahead at 12 books I hope to read in the New Year:

1)      Hild: A Novel by Nicola Griffith

This historical novel is about Hild, the niece of the King of Britain who grows into a powerful figure–and eventually is sainted Hilda of Whitby. I’ve loved Griffith’s fluid prose since I happened upon her novel Slow River years ago. I can’t wait to see what she does in a historical setting–7th Century Britain.

2)      Embassytown by China Miéville

A friend suggested I read Miéville for his immersive worlds. I chose this book, about the human colonist Avice Benner Cho, who returns to Embassytown after years of adventuring in deep space. Homecoming stories interest me, and especially those that touch upon the possibilities of great shifts in space and time between one’s leaving and one’s return.

3)      The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This is on my Christmas list. I started reading The Sandman comics in high school, and I’ve been hooked on Gaiman since. This novel, about a businessman who returns home and delves into childhood memories best left undisturbed, promises to be dark and dreamlike. I can’t wait to see how the three Fate-like women, who live in the house at the end of the lane, are drawn and what their roles are.

4)      The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Water horses. A girl named Puck. Horse races. Fate. Even if not for Jen’s endorsement of Stiefvater, I’d probably still pluck this book off the shelf.

5)      The Ward by Jordana Frankel

This is Frankel’s YA debut, a dystopian novel about New York after floods, plagues, high-stakes hover racing, and friendship. I got to meet Frankel and hear about the book while it was still being edited, and I want to know how it ends!

6)      Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

This novel has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. (Anyone else have that curse where they buy books and don’t read them, but borrow them and finish them in a day?) I loved and was disturbed by The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin, and The Year of the Flood, so I don’t know what I’m waiting for. 2014, perhaps?

7)      Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke

This is another of those books that has been recommended time and again. Like The Prestige, it is about two magicians, and it works in slow reveals. I’ll want to be taking notes on suspense and plot the entire time, if I can keep that up through 1,000-plus pages.

8)      Zig-Zag Wanderer by Madison Smartt Bell

Bell’s limited edition short story collection will be distributed for free (with the request that readers make a donation to a worthy cause), and I hope to catch him reading at The Ivy bookshop in Baltimore next week. The stories, set in the U.S., Haiti, and other places, are mostly named after songs (REM’s “Fall on Me” is among them) and some include musical elements themselves. Bell’s work often goes to dark and strange places–count me in.

9)      The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Because Anne said so.

10)  The Harry Potter audiobooks

This might be wishful thinking, but one of these days I’d like to listen to all of the audiobooks, as performed by Jim Dale.

11)  The Bondwoman’s Narrative: A Novel by Hannah Crafts

Written in the 1850s, this may be the first novel penned by a female African American slave. Crafts, a mulatto, writes about the autobiographical experiences of “passing” and making her way to freedom. Her unpublished manuscript was discovered in 2001 by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

12)  Looking for Alaska by John Green

After thoroughly enjoying Will Grayson, Will Grayson and tearing up at The Fault in Our Stars, I’m ready for another John Green novel. His YA protagonists are strongly voiced, and their struggles are both uniquely their own and universal. He draws the high school out crowd in a completely new way, and the lessons they learn are just as applicable to adults picking up these books.

So, that’s my list. Is there anything you would recommend? Have any thoughts about something I’ve added? Leave them in the comments!