The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

It was a pleasure to read Neil Gaiman’s . The winner of the 2013 National Book Awards Book of the Year and New York Times Number one best seller became an immediate classic in the fantasy genre. Gaiman has always been wonderful with his writing. His novels re91E3iOgMa6L._SL1500_ad like a complex stream of consciousness from the innermost thoughts of a living Peter Pan, a man who has figuratively never grown up.

 personifies that perspective literally. The novel follows an unnamed first person narrator who, in his forties, decides to escape from the solemnity of a funeral to visit his childhood home and the home of a childhood friend of his, Lettie Hempstock, who is apparently living in Australia. Snippets of the protagonist’s memory leak through into his mind and as he nears a small duck pond near Lettie’s house he remembers his story in its entirety. The Ocean, as Lettie dubs the duck pond, holds far more than just water.

As a child the protagonist is unhappy, yet finds escape in his older friend, Lettie. After an opal miner lodging with them breaks into his father’s car and commits suicide in it, opening a door to another world outside the boy’s house. Lettie sets out to seal the hole but a creature gets through and wreaks havoc on the boy’s life while attempting to please everyone else. The novel is purely magical. The writing is enchanting and the style is innocent. All too often you feel that the protagonist as a child lives in between two worlds, neither of which he can understand. The result of which is what Gaiman sets out for: “I hope, at its heart, it’s a novel about survival.”

There really isn’t much in a negative light that I can say about Ocean. The characterisation is as deep as Lettie’s ocean and the storyline weaves in and out of the supernatural and the harrowingly realistic. It plays with themes of life and magic in a magic realist universe and does so exceedingly well. An awoken supernatural being which is only known as what she really is to the protagonist plays with both her demonic nature and delves into the weakness of the human will. In the form of Ursula Monkton, the boy and his sister’s live in nanny and governess, she is a perfectly dissolved solution of seduction, malice and the paranormal. The boy’s parents are the typical bewildered adults, akin to those of the Lewisian universe, who don’t have the imagination to know what is really going on in their own child’s life. The story as a whole is a re-reader and one I am sure you can get more out of every time you read it. It’s a comfortable narrative, one which you can pick up, put down, really think about and overall enjoy.

Firestarter by Stephen King

Firestarter is Stephen King’s ninth published novel and has generally been lauded as one of his middle ground novels from his extensive canon. The novel was nominated for the British Fantasy award in 1981 but lost out to Ramsay Campbell’s To Wake the Dead.

Firestarter is actually my first exploration into King’s work. So with a mind unclouded from previous fandom for his work (or hatred of if the case may have been) I leapt into the novel not really knowing what to expect. Five hundred and sixty-six pages later I got up, dusted myself off, wholly satisfied.

9780141341934King’s style is everything the people say it is. His power with words is akin to a steel vice. It holds you and won’t let go until the inevitable and violent climax. Firestarter tells the story of Charlie and her father Andy McGee, the unfortunate victims of an underhand government experiment gone wrong. Andy and his wife were test subjects for a mysterious and illicit drug known as Lot 6. The taking of which imbued the two of them with psi powers. The novel begins in medias res after the murder of Andy’s wife while he and Charlie are on the run.

Andy is a mind suppressor who uses what he calls ‘the push’ to actively alter the thoughts of his targets, for example, he convinces a mystified cab driver a one dollar bill is a five hundred. Charlie is a pyrokinetic; a term coined by Stephen King for this novel. It is a specific branch of telekinesis (the power to move objects with one’s mind) which concentrates energy into the spontaneous heating of particles in the air, causing flames. Charlie is sought by the agents who administered the drug to her parents, the most threatening of whom is a wonderful ‘good cop’ American Indian man John Rainbird. Rainbird is pure danger personified and will stop at nothing to keep Charlie and her father under wraps. Charlie is a potent weapon. Her power can create a spot heat of thirty thousand degrees Fahrenheit and for that the government want to contain her before her story can get out into the public eye.

The story is a relatively typical action narrative but it still keeps your attention and keeps you wanting to continue to the end. King’s writing is flawless and believable despite the outlandish situation. The characters seem to hold humanity to them which you all too often don’t find within a thriller. Not one of them is what one could call a plot device. Each has their own story, problems and must overcome or succumb to them. It makes for a fascinating ride and has certainly convinced me of King’s ability as a writer. And if this is only average for his style, then what am I missing out on?