The Ocean at the End of the Lane

It was only a duck pond, out at the back of the farm.

I have always been a fan of Neil Gaiman. I feel like his Neverwhere was my first experience with the contemporary fantasy genre. So of course I had my eyes peeled for his latest.

At first I had to get used to the world and the story a little. It starts with a (seemingly) plain grown man, in a normal situation. When the flashbacks start, and his neighbors are introduced, is when the fantasy braids itself into every plot line. It turns into more organic, softer, flowing than I’m used to with Gaiman’s work. The world created is terrifying and beautiful and painted in otherworldly colors.

And in the center of all that it’s just a story about just a young boy that tries to grow up. Because that’s something Gaiman does nicely as well.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman, Harper Collings 2013

Lionel Asbo

Dear Jennaveieve,
I’m having an affair with an older woman.

I gave Martin Amis another chance. It started out like I had judged him wrong for The Pregnant Widow, but suddenly, in the last 50 – 60 pages it became a struggle again. Point of views swam and swapped without any tether or support, plot lines were deserted. And I was back being frustrated again.

Lionel Asbo is a walking ASBO (anti-social behavior order), viewed through the eyes of his cousin. They live in the trash can, society’s drain of London, surrounded by violence, disturbed families and a big need to fit in with the desperate ways. Things change, yet stay the same when Lionel wins a huge lottery prize. Millions.

Combine this with the story teller trying to break free from his surroundings, family matters, financial matters, violence and a love for the comfort of prison and you have something boiling. Sadly, by the end of the book, boiling over.

Lionel Asbo: State of England, Martin Amis, Cape 2012

Sucker Punch

At the funeral for Oliver’s father I daydreamed about killing my own.

Marcus wishes he was more daring and that he had a girlfriend. Instead, he has a younger brother on depression medication, a father that beats that brother up, a mother that says nothing and a piece of his index finger missing.

Marcus discovers that oldest doesn’t mean that you can save everyone. He is a side character in his own life, while his brother is the main character in their direct surroundings. Does he even deserve to be saved from himself, or is that a horrible thought? He’s just a teenage guy, after all.

In quick, bright, brutal strokes Hernandez shows a world of teen wishes, family and growing up.

Sucker Punch, David Hernandez, Harper Collins 2008

February

Helen watches as the man touches the skate blade to the sharpener.

How long do you mourn the dead? Helen loses her husband in her early twenties, mother of three and pregnant of their fourth child. This doesn’t just turn her into a widow, but in a single parent, in someone who has suffered, in a sore reminder to her surroundings.

Lisa Moore shows Helen’s world, how she carries on without moving on. There is a sadness always present, one that is light and heavy at the same time. Of course she continues living, she has children and a family. Of course she can’t step away from the thought of ‘what if’, of missing the one she decided to be with for the rest of their lives.

Would their lives have been better without the accident? Would Helen and her husband even have stayed together? No-one will ever know, and that’s what the author puts down well.

February, Lisa Moore, Chatto & WIndus 2010

The Residue Years

It’s years beyond the worst of it, and it’s your time, Mom, a time of head starts and new starts and starting and not stopping – of re-dos and fixes, of gazing at full moons and quarter moons and seeing what before were phantasms for-reals.

Sometimes people have already said it and said it better: “A raw heart wreck of a novel .. one of the fictional families I have cared about most” (Amy Hempel).

A poor, black family tries to adjust to the drugs-addicted mother coming back from rehab. She tries to adjust to society, life, and family, but none of those are very cooperative in giving her a a second, third, fourth chance. Her older son tries hard to avoid the cracks, but just stumbles from one to another, because life is different for a black man versus a white man.

Things go a bit better before they turn a lot worse again, and it hurts and it aches because the reader can’t do anything about it. This is simply the reality for some people, and even it knowing is uncomfortable, it’s better than not knowing.

The Residue Years, Mitchell S. Jackson, Bloomsbury 2013

The Road of the Dead

When the Dead Man got Rachel I was sitting in the back of a wrecked Mercedes wondering if the rain was going to stop.

The Road of the Dead doesn’t fit in just one box. It comes from the YA section, but it’s brutal enough for an adult read. It’s about family and being different, but it’s always a detective, trying to discover how the main character’s sister died. And with main character Ruben being able to ‘feel’ people out, there is a hint of fantasy as well.

It’s a stubborn book, demanding some of the reader’s investment before it curls open into a story about small towns and big egos, grown rotten through capitalism. It’s uneven as well, like sometimes the author was unsure about something and works extra hard to convince his reader.

Not bad, not good but yet slightly compelling, this is for quick readers with a nose for detectives.

 The Road of the Dead, Kevin Brooks, Scholastic Inc 2006

Gretel and the Dark

It is many years before the Pied Piper comes back for the other children.

Tightly knit Gothic horror story (or fairy tale?) that gives the reader enough imagery to fill hours of film with.

Gretel in the Dark shows that (opposed to some recently read novels) that a story doesn’t necessarily need likable characters to be enticing. Krysta’s ‘won’ts’ and ‘shant’s’ are grating and the delusions and anger of Josef, Gudrun and Lilie aren’t very appealing either. And yet, the reader carries on, curious-anxious to untie the knot.

There are two sides to this – possibly – same story. There is Krysta, who lives next to a zoo for human-animals with her father and ever-suffering maid and then there is ‘Lilie’, a confused woman whom is sure she is a machine that needs to kill ‘the monster’. Per chapter the years swap, until the lines are starting to fade.

Gretel in the Dark is a chew-able story, give it a chance to get through and it will linger for a long time.

Gretel and the Dark, Eliza Granville, Hamish Hamilton 2014