Once upon a time, there was a young boy who had something bad happen with one of the lodgers at his house. Now, depending upon whether you’re looking for real life or fiction, you can either interpret that as an opening statement on a story from author Neil Gaiman’s life or his latest novel, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”.
Wow. I loved this book. Let me preface this by saying that I’ve been a fan of Gaiman’s ever since I was first introduced to his completely sick and twisted mind by “Sandman”. Add some “American Gods” (woah) into the mix, plus “Stardust” (aww…cute!) and “Neverwhere” (WTH just happened?!) to you get a picture of someone who’s clearly got his mind wrapped around many dimensions simultaneously. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s written two amazing episodes of “Doctor Who” and that my kids love “Chu’s Day” – his most recent publication strictly aimed at the younger set.
So, with all of that in mind, I cracked open my signed first edition almost immediately upon boarding the train for New York, on my way to a conference. I had a solid block of time to myself – about 3-1/2hrs on the Acela – and that seemed like a good time to start reading “Ocean”. Turns out, it was a good time to read it and FINISH it. I don’t think I’ve ever finished a book so fast in my life. It’s not that it was a quick read in the sense that it was breezy or whimsical. I couldn’t put it down because it was engrossing and utterly fantastic, leaving me breathless as I turned each page wondering what would befall the unnamed protagonist next.
“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” opens with the narrator wandering around after a funeral, taking a detour fueled by muscle memory that brings him back to a small rural town where he once lived. As he sits by the small pond in the backyard of a former neighbor, his memories come flooding back and you’re transported back to his childhood – where immortal beings and other realities freely mix with the reality most of us know. The narrator stumbles onto the evidence that a being from another world, something of immense power, has been tampering with the lives of the people in his village, and he enlists the help of an eccentric girl who is seemingly only a few years older than himself.
As it turns out, of course, she’s nothing of the sort – and she takes him into another part of the world, where faerie clearly reigns more than the laws of science. They encounter an evil presence that follows them back into our world and ingratiates itself into his family as the nanny from Hell. The rest of the story is an insane thrill-ride as the protagonist tries to rid himself – and the world – of this demonic force from beyond time. As with so many of Gaiman’s other works, to read too much into the possibility is either to scare yourself half to death or to shake it off as utterly unbelievable. I prefer to think of his stories as best read when the lights are firmly set in the ON position, and this book is no exception. I loved it and would highly recommend it. Clearly, it was a fast read (I was done with it within about 3hrs), but that’s a GOOD THING. Devouring a book is what it’s all about – when you find something that speaks to you, that you can’t imagine putting down, that’s my idea of a truly great read.
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Book #8 is “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card, and I’m enjoying that immensely, as well. It’s causing me no shortage of insomnia, though, partially due to the content and partially due to the fact that I’m having trouble putting it down. Truly, having books be so good that you want to stay up all night to read them is what I’d consider “a good problem to have”.
As far as anything else goes, like weight loss, the trip to NYC was far better for reading than it was for managing my weight. I was in my conference, meetings, and schmoozy, heavy dinners from about 8am until 9pm every day, so I didn’t get nearly enough of that NYC walking that I really enjoy. I saw a few pounds added onto the scale (ugh), but I consider that a challenge and not a complete setback. A quick mid-week weigh-in showed a lower amount than I saw on weigh-in day, but since I only weigh myself ONCE a week (officially), I’m still sticking with the higher number I got on Sunday. Lesson learned: eating your way through a conference without walking or other forms of exercise is NOT smart. Got it.