The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Published: 18th June 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 William Morrow Books
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark. 

I read this when it first came out and I bought the beautiful hardcover that Gaiman signed and devoured it in one sitting. This is where Neil Gaiman shines: writing dark, mysterious stories that are like a new breed of fairytale and yet they are still so real as well. I loved this book, it was mysterious, dark, funny, obscure, strange, all these things in this one little book.

I loved the structure of the story too, it’s framed in a way that makes you think you’ll get answers, but you don’t, not really. Not that this takes away from the beautiful storytelling. You never find out who the funeral is for, thought I think either we’re either not supposed to know because it is either irrelevant or it is obvious. You can certainly find your own answers based on a few snippets here and there but nothing concrete. This open ending only adds to the mystical nature of the story and though answers would be nice, they are by no means necessary.

What I like about child protagonists is that so little phases them usually, but they do get scared and they get scared excellently. So while little George seems to accept the Hempstock family and all their strangeness quite well, monsters and mysterious women unsettle him, and the way Gaiman expresses this fear was wonderfully done. It is an odd thing to like in a book, child fear, but this book is so much about what it means to be a child and Gaiman captures it beautifully and with a touch of magic.

You get caught up in the story that you kind of forget it is bookended, it is only a memory, a very vivid memory, and it is rather wonderful how Gaiman has connected everything together. Nothing is completely solved, but you understand that things will be ok at the same time. It is quite strange and certainly not the kind of story that would be enjoyed by everyone, but I certainly thought it was excellent and I loved this peculiar journey Gaiman took me on.

You can purchase The Ocean at the End of the Lane via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

 Fishpond | QBD

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Published: June 29th 2000 (print)/1st April, 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harcourt, Inc. /Bolinda Audio
Pages: 93/1 hours 59 minutes
Narrator: Humphrey Bower
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.

It’s time for another installment of ‘This Classic Was Underwhelming, Why Do People Rave About It?’ I’ve given it a four but that is because it started out as a sweet story and I was open and willing to explore the universe with this little prince. I enjoyed the strange planets and the different people, and it was cute to follow the prince around the universe. Then it becomes heavy handed and weird. I was intrigued having never really heard about the plot, just that it was filled with inspirational quotes and filled with the allegory about life. I didn’t hate it, I was just underwhelmed.

I understood what de Saint-Exupéry was trying to do, but it didn’t grab me. I was interested in his approach and I managed to enjoy the story, but I got to the end and went ‘ok?’. So obviously I missed the grand impact that he was after. It’s not that I didn’t get it, I understand the big meaning of life that was being expressed but I didn’t care. The last part of the story ruined the magic of the first part, even though I know they were trying to tell the same story.

I’m glad I went with the audiobook because I think I might have disliked it more if I read it. Bower does a great job telling the story and even though I missed out on the pictures, it didn’t really impact on the story too much. Perhaps I wasn’t connected enough to the prince given his journey. Without that emotional attachment perhaps the impact of it was lost on me. At least I can say I’ve read it now.

You can purchase The Little Prince via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

 Fishpond QBD

 

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Published: October 1st 1998 (print) / 1 May 2017 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Perennial / Bolinda / BBC audio
Pages: 248 / 2 hours 32 minutes
Narrator: Eleanor Bron
Format:
 Audio
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall—named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…

I had watched the movie years before I even knew it was a book, and was glad enough time had passed that I didn’t remember it so I couldn’t compare the two. I listened to this as an audiobook too which was actually a full-cast dramatization from the BBC. That made it a really great experience, aside from the fact they get a bit too detailed and you have to listen to people talk while they’re eating and drinking which for me was super uncomfortable to listen to. The cast did a great job telling the story. It had great voice casting as well as accompanying soundtrack and sound effects. It was a little something extra than a normal audiobook experience.

One thing I found really interesting about this is that it felt like a short story, even though it was a full novel. The whole book had this duel sense to it, it had a simple premise but it felt full whilst reading it, and it felt substantial even when it wasn’t an overly busy plot.

Tristran is naïve in a way, he is in love which makes him idealistic. He doesn’t pick up on cues from Victoria about her lesser interest in him and he is determined to win her heart. On his quest to find the fallen star we see his good nature shine, and we become involved with his story and worry for his safety because there is no telling where this story might go. The unexpected and the cruel happen much like any fairytale story, but there is still a sense of good shining through.

The thing I love about magic is how the rules can be interpreted and how the regular rules of the universe don’t work. I loved the way Gaiman told this story, I loved how magic is used and how the rules of the magical world play out in the human one in different ways. There are twists and turns and for a simple find and recover story, there are intricate subplots happening that intertwine and connect, even when you don’t realise it. This is where Gaiman is good at his storytelling, creating a story that captivates you and pulls you in, without making it needlessly complicated or grand, yet still providing substance and beauty.

One thing which I both enjoyed and was a bit struck by, was the ending. It is great certainly, but it does end rather abruptly. You get a satisfactory ending for the story that’s told, but I feel like more could have been said just to round off the edges better instead of cutting it so sharply. But that may be the way of the fairy tale Gaiman was trying to tell.

When I finished I did sit down with the intention to rewatch the movie, but from the first instance I saw the differences I turned it off. Even if it was a decent adaptation, one of the things I loved most about the book was changed in the movie and I chose to preserve that memory instead. The way Gaiman uses magic was some of the best parts and when that didn’t translate I chose to not continue, though I’m sure it was a decent movie, it was more a personal choice than that it was a poor adaptation.

You can purchase Stardust via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Book Depository | QBD

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Fishpond | Wordery | Angus & Robertson

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Published: 6th March 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 W. W. Norton & Company
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Neil Gaiman, long inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction, presents a bravura rendition of the Norse gods and their world from their origin through their upheaval in Ragnarok. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki son of a giant blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose, these gods emerge with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

I know that this is a Neil Gaiman book, and Neil Gaiman is a great storyteller, this time, however, I can’t say that is the case. I loved his work for younger kids, Coraline and The Graveyard Book are amazing. But this…it was boring. It was dull and read like an information dump and I couldn’t get into the “story”. I’d read Gaiman’s introduction and heard all the praise from reviews and readers and I was ready to be taken into this world of mythology alongside Loki and Thor and all their misadventures.  I wanted to be thrown into this world and be captured by their charm and cheek and might. But there was none of that. It was dry and needed a bit more substance to make it less like a textbook of names and facts.

I’m sure this was not Gaiman’s intention, mythology doesn’t need to just be “this god did this and then that happened and then this other god did this” which is how this felt for me reading it. A bit of interesting and creative storytelling could have been included to make it read more like a story without losing the well known mythology. I wasn’t expecting it to read like The Odyssey or anything like that, I didn’t need poetic verse, but I thought Gaiman could have made it more seamless and natural, more of a novelisation of these myths. This was not a story, nor was it even a bunch of short stories. It was a weird experience and one that I grew to dislike very early one.

Now, I will admit some parts were funny. I did laugh at a few scenes and lines, and in the end I had learnt things I hadn’t known about Norse mythology. The problem was that by the midway point I was losing interest and resorted to skimming a few stories and going back in for the final few chapters. The disappointing thing was that nothing much of the stories was lost on me since the book just had key points listed one after another I could get the gist of what I needed to learn and the story that was trying to be told.

The final chapters were interesting, Ragnarok being a hard thing to really ruin, but it was the same style of writing that failed to grab me. I chose to focus instead on looking at the bigger picture and thinking back to the entire story as a whole and making my own story and connections to bring the entire mythology to an end. Something maybe Gaiman could have done a bit better himself.

You can purchase Norse Mythology via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks | Booktopia

Amazon | Amazon Aust 

World of Books | Fishpond | Angus & Robertson

QBD | The Nile

 

The Fellowship of the Ring (#1) by J. R. R. Tolkien

Published: 29th  July 1954 (print)/11th October 2005 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt /HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 398/18 discs
Narrator: Rob Inglis
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★  – 2 Stars

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, The Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose. 

First of all, no one in all my years of hearing about Lord of the Rings ever mentioned just how much singing I would have to sit through in this book. The only time I wish I was reading it instead of listening to it was putting up with so many songs. There were five-minute songs in there that were hard to skip on audio, not to mention all the random ones we needed in there about having baths, walking, general merriment, and who knows what else.

Tom Bombadil was also a nightmare to put up with, I was so relieved when his part ended I actually cried out in frustration when he came back. That is not to say the rest of the story was horrible. I actually enjoyed some parts, some parts were genuinely interesting and had that adventure tone to them, and then other times it was just boring.

I wanted to like this story, it started off so interesting and each time I found myself becoming uninterested I felt I was doing this story a disservice. I know people talk about Tolkien being big into description and long-winded things but that wasn’t a real problem, I didn’t mind the walking and the travelling for most of the book, but for some reason the walking towards the end was incredibly dull and hard to listen to and there are some scenes that I think were entirely unnecessary.

I did like the characters though, I liked Frodo and I liked Sam’s loyalty. Merry and Pippin weren’t as silly as I recall them being in the movie and I especially liked the complexity of Aragorn. There is a good story here woven between the oversharing and focusing on that instead is a great way to get through the boring bits. Tolkien came through though with a good and interesting ending, after a dull stretch it suddenly takes off and you are whisked into a great conclusion that makes you want to head straight into the next story.

I am not a huge fantasy reader but I don’t hate the genre, and this is after all THE fantasy novel, the beloved classic, and I am a little surprised, I thought I would like it more than I did. You can certainly see the Tolkien genius, but my goodness you have to put up with a lot of nonsense to get there.

I also realised too late that I should have started with The Hobbit, but there was a prologue recap before the story and there are enough references within the text itself that it is not really needed, but I did feel like I was missing out on something.

You can purchase The Fellowship of the Ring via the following

QBD | Dymocks | Book Depository

Booktopia | Bookworld | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Wordery

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