The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This fantastical little story was my first experience with Gaiman, and it wasn’t a super good one for me.

The story is about a middle aged man who, after attending a funeral, goes back to his childhood home to walk around and remember stuff. The rest of the book is him remembering some crazy things that happened when he was 7.

This post contains spoilers.

My first problem was with the writing. Reviewers consistently call this beautifully written, but I found the prose somewhat annoying. The author stubbornly refuses to use contractions, and insists on using the characters full names (Letty Hempstock did this, Letty Hempstock said that) every time they are mentioned. This may be in an effort to give the prose a childlike, fairytale feel, or maybe it’s just to inflate the word count of this already very short book.

Another problem was with the way the story is framed. When you start with an older man remembering his past, the story can’t be held up by tense action, since we know the character is remembering all this from far in the future, so everything is obviously going to be okay. I assumed the viewpoint would be going back and forth between memory and present day, and that the character’s recollection of the strange things that happened to him as a child would affect his present life and help him get over the death, or help him decide some hard choice. But the book was all just one big memory, with a little bit of an epilogue to make it not a completely pointless story.

And the story did seem to be pointless. The character (an obvious self insert) did not change or learn anything, in fact after the story is over he immediately forgot everything again (and since the story is told in first person this is a bit of fourth wall breaking confusion). There is no arc, the character doesn’t make any sacrifices or change himself or learn anything about himself in any way.

The best part of the story was when the character (who is never named, and though this is done better than most books, it is still annoying) is trying to escape his new nanny/babysitter, Ursula Monkton (never Ursula, never Miss Monkton, always Ursula Monkton) who is terrible and also a manifestation of some kind of demon or otherworldly creature. It is exciting and intense, despite us knowing that since this is a memory, everything obviously turns out okay.

But even that escape was not done by the character. He gets in a bind and is saved by the neighbor girl Letty, who just happens to be some kind of diety(?)

Maybe it’s just me, but most of these fantastical stories, I just have a real hard time caring. When anything can happen at any moment, it’s hard for any of it to have any weight or meaning. I would probably have enjoyed this story a lot more if it had been told from Letty’s point of view, since she was the one who took action and made a sacrifice and changed.

To sum up this novel, its about a guy who had some weird dreams when he was seven, remembered them for a minute when he was older, then forgot them again.

 

 

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Resurrection, by Leo Tolstoy

I just finished this one, my first Tolstoy, chosen because it’s the shortest novel he wrote. The story is about a nobleman in 1880, Nekhlyudov, who finds himself on a jury. One of the accused is a woman he knew in is past, and who he wronged when he was young. While watching the trial he recalls how he treated her, and blames himself for how her life turned out. He vows to do whatever he can to help her out of her situation, as a way to earn her forgiveness.

The story, while well written and engagingly told, is not so much about the characters, but about the politics of the era. Tolstoy uses the story to rail against the justice system, the church, the rich, the prison system, and the way humans treat each other as if they are objects. There are several very eloquently written rants that feel as if they could have been written about the state of the world today.

While I enjoyed it, I probably only did so because it was preaching to the right choir, and I cheered on all his statements about the world. But for someone else not so into political thoughts, it is pretty light on drama and story.