The Ocean at The End of the Lane

By Neil Gaiman

Book Cover: Ocean at the End of the LaneI have a bit of a love–hate relationship with Neil Gaiman. I loved the Sandman series, of course, and American Gods, and I hated his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors. All of his other stuff sort of falls between those two extremes, and The Ocean at The End of the Lane is pretty smack dab in the middle.

It is quite short, less than 200 pages; really more of a novella, despite “A Novel” being printed on the cover right under the title. And to go off on a side rant: I hate novellas! Somehow they are always both too long and too short. Like, authors write short stories to be compact and novels to be all-encompassing, but novellas pretty much always fail at both, and seem like initial outlines for a full novel. I almost always end up feeling like I’m reading an incomplete work and it has been a waste of my time. I then get sulky about the author being lazy, and bitter about the state of publishing, and it all cycles down from there, so novellas are not my thing.

So, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about this one, but I follow Neil Gaiman on twitter, and lots of people were raving about it. When I ran across it in the library, I figured I’d give it a shot, since I really did like American Gods and this seemed all fantastical, too.

It was okay. It starts off pretty slow, with the narrator reflecting back on the summer when he was seven, when a boarder in his house dies, kicking off a string of supernatural events. He meets his mysterious neighbors, a family of three-generational women including a girl just a few years older than him, and helps them try to contain the odd happenings. It all takes some time to get rolling, but by the middle, the story is quite engaging, though at times I felt it followed a very standard “yellow brick road” narrating style, as the two children walk a path into another reality, and must deal with one strange thing after another.

Gaiman does introduce some quite intriguing characters and imagery that simply don’t have the space to really grow to their full potential in such a short book. It ends up feeling a bit like Chis Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, in which the readers must flesh out the story on their own, and it makes me bitter, having to put all this unexpected work into a story. I just told Tom that this review was circling the drain, and he commented that while I often talk about how much I like Gaiman, I don’t really like the majority of his work, so I guess maybe I’m not really a fan at all. Oh, well.

—Anna

Good Omens

By Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Book Cover: Good OmensThis is less of a book review, since I’ve read Good Omens at least half a dozen times, and more of a PSA:

GO READ THIS BOOK!

Seriously, it is awesome! The basic premise is inspired by Antichrist-genre movies, such as “The Omen” (which I also love, but you don’t need to in order to love this book), but with a twist: what if the Satanic nuns, who were supposed to switch the infant Antichrist with the newborn of the American consulate, accidentally misplaced him instead, and he ended up being raised by perfectly normal and very British middle-class parents in a small English country town?

After introducing the premise, settings, and characters within the first 60 pages, the majority of the book takes place over the four very busy days before The End Of The World. High-jinx ensue, of course, and there is a surprisingly wide array of players, including angels, demons, nuns, witches and fortune-tellers, witch hunters, nosy neighbors, and, of course, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Both Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett excel at creating literary screwball comedies with dozens of characters all running around at cross-purposes. To my mind, though, the two authors are so perfectly matched because each balances the other’s weaknesses as well. Gaiman can get a bit melodramatic, while Pratchett is often too silly for me, so the two of them together create a fast-paced story with a light touch that doesn’t get bogged down in either symbolism or puns.

—Anna

Teeth

Edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

Book Cover: TeethI picked up this book as an impulse loan at the library when the title typeface caught my eye. (Design nerd moment: I really like how they were able to make the title actually look like teeth without being totally cheesy about it – very elegant, especially coupled with the lack of teeth in the image) I also had already heard of the book because one of my favorite blog writers, Genevieve Valentine, wrote one of the stories in the collection, and posted that story online. It was awesome, so I figured I wouldn’t mind reading it again and see if the other stories were of the same caliber.

Of course, some were and some weren’t. Well, Valentine’s was still the best, but there were others I really liked, too. In fact, Valentine’s story was first in the collection, and then the second story, All Smiles by Steve Berman, dealt with a vampire myth from a more unusual, non-European culture, as well, so I was pretty pleased. (Actually, both these first two stories are available in a preview of the book here.)

The problem with this type of anthology is that lots of people, me included, like to read about vampires, so it makes sense to collect stories about them. Good vampire stories, though, often use vampirism as a surprise twist in the story, so you see the problem. Just being included in this type of anthology spoils a lot of the stories, so there were certainly several that I think I would have liked a lot more if I hadn’t just been reading them waiting for the vampires to show up.

A not-so-brief gripe to close out this review: the book cover promises contributions from Cassandra Clare & Holly Black, Neil Gaiman, Melissa Marr, and more. Now, I’m a recent fan of Holly Black, and I really enjoyed her story here, co-written with Cassandra Clare; and I’m starting to think Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely was a fluke because I haven’t enjoyed any of her other writing nearly as much; but my real gripe is with Neil Gaiman. I love his Sandman graphic novels and every full-length novel he has ever written. I consider myself a huge fan of his. However, his short stories are crap. So, I knew not to actually consider his name on the cover to be any sort of selling point, but he must have disappointed legions of not-already-disappointed fans with his short and hasty-seeming poem that reads more like a pop song. Weak sauce, Gaiman, weak sauce.

—Anna