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.

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The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

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As melancholy as he looks, when depicted on the cover of the 2008 Penguin edition of The Day of the Triffids, Bill Masen is one of the most brazen characters I have seen portrayed in writing. John Wyndham’s best known novel certainly deserves the recognition that is has achieved, and the characterisation is one of its major strengths.

We follow Bill Masen through the streets of London and beyond in the aftermath of a global disaster where a glowing meteor-filled sky rendered all but a few people blind. Bill, naturally, is one of these people. He meets estranged chick-lit novelist Josella and together they seek out refuge. All the while, Triffids, tripodal walking plants with fatal stings on top of thick stems round up the blinded humans and mercilessly slaughter them. One thing I might add is the odd choice of title: The Day of the Triffids. There is of course a significant day, but that causes mass blindness. The triffids themselves eke into the novel gradually before becoming an outright plague. Most of the characters, the obviously intuitive Bill Masen excluded, seem to have no idea about how dangerous the triffids are. It leads to a trust relationship being formed between reader and protagonist. Bill Masen is apparently the most knowledgeable man in the country and everything he says becomes almost gospel to the reader, particularly when it is disregarded by his fellow characters.

The Day of the Triffids is a classic cozy catastrophe, where the protagonists rarely find themselves in any real danger, either through luck, strength or intelligence – they always seem to pull through uninjured. Regardless, the novel cannot be called anything but classic. It is one of the most renowned science fiction stories that has ever been written. Wyndham, despite not putting his protagonists in direct peril, certainly works hard to build an effective and absorbing atmosphere. The situation seems oddly believable and the solutions to problems equally so. It’s obvious a lot of thought has been put into this vision of catastrophe. Unfortunately its civility also holds it back. A cozy catastrophe is so much less than a tragic incident. There is no real loss, pain or grief saving the brutal murder of Josella’s entire family, which she seems to be over within a day or two. Where the atmosphere, build up and situation seem so realistic, the characters seem almost overly headstrong considering it. The blind are often depicted as suicidal, but the sighted ones are hardened to the entire affair. While Bill is inherently affected by this tragedy, he rarely gives himself time for reflection, there is always a plan in his head and survival is a key part of that plan. He’s an inspiring character and cares when he needs to care, but it is quickly established that for the blinded masses, there is only so much a man can do.

Wyndham also is inexplicably anti-American. There is an attitude among some of the characters that there will be Americans coming to save the day – published, as this was, ten years after The Second World War. However these characters are usually and immediately rebutted. There is an overbearing sense of British ‘pluck,’ but I think it almost goes too far. The triffids are creepy if a little comical but I feel a little more fear wouldn’t hurt.

It’s a book everyone should read, yes, but in twenty years or so I think it’ll be past its prime. Bill Masen is a fascinating character and certainly a ‘leader,’ yet catastrophe fiction now often takes a far more bleak view on life and I doubt Bill would fit so nicely in it.