The title of this book alone was enough to have me believe it would be another interesting piece of imagination from the mind of Neil Gaiman. The titlThe title of this book alone was enough to have me believe it would be another interesting piece of imagination from the mind of Neil Gaiman. The title phrase alone, "Ocean at the End of the Lane", embodies the type of genius elements that I find in Gaiman's work, these sort of impossible things that exist unnoticed in the world. Coraline was like that, so was The Graveyard Book, and they both convinced me that the inclusion of these mysterious elements was well-suited for children's books, which have always been the realm of acceptable fantasy.
While The Ocean and the End of the Lane isn't a children's book, it does feature a child protagonist and exists within the world of childhood. When a man returns to his childhood home after the funeral of a parent, he visits the farm at the end of the lane where he grew up and then he begins to remember the remarkable tale which he'd inexplicably forgotten.
The story is filled with elements borrowed from fairy tales, myths, and the macabre, blended in an extraordinary way to reveal truths about the nature of the universe and the confusion that comes with being a child in a world that doesn't adhere to the sensible rules of a child's mind. After a man commits suicide on the lane, strange forces are awoken and the three Hempstock ladies, witch-like characters, are tasked with putting things right. The boy in the story inadvertently becomes involved in this drama, and gets caught in the middle of an ancient struggle between good vs. evil. The plot plays out in unexpected ways, capturing the dark spirit of horror and the noble expression of sacrifice.
This is one of those books that I wish would go on and on, but in a weird way, it's brevity proves to be its true genius. ...more
Dystopian fiction before it became a fad was usually more interested in survival than the current theme of love in the face of insurmountable odds. ThDystopian fiction before it became a fad was usually more interested in survival than the current theme of love in the face of insurmountable odds. The Postman is a story of surviving, not just the survival one individual, but the survival of a cultural spirit. Set in the state of Oregon, two decades after a Doomwar has torn apart the fabric of society and left its shreds to flap in the breeze, the novel plays out one of the fundamental conflicts of human civilization; primitivism vs. progressive.
The story begins with an attack. Gordon, an intelligent and resourceful survivor, is robbed of all the possessions that he needs to keep him alive as night begins to set in the mountains. Desperate, knowing that he won't survive the night, he pursues the band of robbers in the hopes of making a last ditch attempt to get his gear back and live another day. While trying to find their camp, he is led off track and ends up coming across something more valuable than he could possibly imagine. At first, the old U.S. Mail truck is simply a shelter, its bags of mail become blankets from the cold, and the dead skeleton's uniform is a mere substitute for the gear that was stolen.
Gordon only discovers the symbolic power of these items once he enters the next town on the other side of the mountains, a relatively stable and peaceful community that mistakes him for a postman from a nation they thought no longer existed. Despite Gordon's honesty about how he come in possession of the items, the people latch onto the ideal, even giving him letters to take to long lost family in towns to the West. As he travels from town to town, he quickly learns that his uniform, and the ever more elaborate myth he tells of The Resorted United States, are able to ease the hostilities of communities weary of strangers. Eventually he takes to setting up Post Offices in the places he passes through, appointing postmasters and inadvertently establishing a mail system between the communities.
The Post Office is a wonderful symbol for civilization. It represents the idea of free communication, and communication is the key to a greater purpose and the basis of forming larger communities. The myth quickly grows beyond Gordon's control and he suffers from guilt as he realizes he's giving people hope where perhaps none is warranted. This become painfully clear when the new larger community he's developed is faced with fighting off an invasion of the barbaric hoard known as Holnists, followers of a pre-war survivalist and his primitive teachings. Their epic battles take on the metaphor of good vs. evil in dramatic and powerful ways.
While the novel veers off course a little as it nears the end, getting bogged down in another sub-plot of the advantages and perils of technology, it manages to pull everything together nicely in the end. This is that rare kind of book that mixes action with profound intellectual ideas. A thoroughly enjoyable read that leaves you with much to think about. ...more
The third book in the wonderful Wildwood series is arguably the best of the three, which is saying a lot considering the first two were near flawless.The third book in the wonderful Wildwood series is arguably the best of the three, which is saying a lot considering the first two were near flawless. But in this concluding chapter of the story that began three years ago with the first novel, Colin Meloy truly hits his stride, cementing himself as one of the finest storytellers of his generation.
The story opens with the main characters scattered throughout the various locations in the city of Portland and sections Impassable Wilderness where they each had been left at the end of Under Wildwood. Several months have passed, and many changes have taken place within the province of South Wood following the revolution orchestrated by Prue and Curtis in the first novel. Though things seem to have returned to a sense of normality, disruptive forces are at work under the surface.
Several story lines are at work in this novel, from the battle in the Industrial Wastes and Prue's quest to find the other Maker in order to fulfill the Council Tree's prophecy, to Curtis's search for the Missing bandits and the return of the Dowager Governess trying to complete her dastardly plan from the first novel. Needless to say, there is a lot of story happening in these 580+ pages, and somehow all of them manage to be perfectly paced and woven together to deliver a unforgettable climax and remarkably executed conclusion to the entire saga.
These books are destined to become classics, read for generations.
Among fans of Lewis Carroll's work, there seems to be just as much fascination with the story of his life as there is with the fictional stories, specAmong fans of Lewis Carroll's work, there seems to be just as much fascination with the story of his life as there is with the fictional stories, specifically his relationship with Alice Pleasance Liddell, the little girl for whom he created his most famous work, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Though biographies of the author, of which I have read many, cover this aspect of his life in detail, there has been little attempt to examine the relationship from the point of view of the other person involved. There are very few biographies about the "real" Alice, and most don't delve too deeply into the circumstances surrounding her interaction with Charles Dodgeson (aka Lewis Carroll), which is probably what made Melanie Benjamin's novel Alice I Have Been an instant success when it came out.
Though I was excited upon its publication, I held off reading it until this month. When this novel came out, I had recently read Katie Rophie's Still She Haunts Me, a novel that also imagines the relationship between Alice and the author. I loved that novel, and wanted to wait for it to pass through my system before entering Benjamin's world. While they cover a lot of the same territory, the books are very different. The focus of this novel is the little girl and her thoughts and feelings, and properly leaves the intentions of others to her speculation, as any first person narrative should.
Beyond the appeal of telling a story that has long captured my curiosity, this is a remarkably poignant coming of age tale about a girl who doesn't really want to grow up, but who like all of us, must. It's a touching portrait of a child caught in situations that she cannot completely understand, and ultimately has to live with the consequences imposed by witnessing adults. In many ways, this imagining of Alice's life is similar to the themes in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland about the nonsensical rules of an adult world imposed on a child.
I really enjoyed that the book didn't end where most discussions of Alice end. It continued on, exploring her grown up life in depth, and the kind of burden that came with being "the real Alice". I also appreciated how it didn't attempt to settle the long standing debate on the nature of Lewis Carroll and his intentions when it came to his child friends. Through the entire novel, Alice remained the focus and how the ambiguous historical events may have been seen through a child's eyes, and later how they may have affected her. It was tragic at times, beautiful at others, and always engaging.
While many of the facts concerning the interactions between Alice and Lewis Carrol have been intentionally lost, either by the elimination of his dairy pages after his death or the destruction of the letters he wrote to a young Alice by her mother, Benjamin's portrayal feels very plausible. But the great thing about this book is that it doesn't really matter if they are factual or not. As a novel, the interpretations are carried through with incredible skill, creating a character as unforgettable as the real life inspiration. ...more
The long awaited sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was released a few weeks ago, and I did something that I rarely do, I went outThe long awaited sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was released a few weeks ago, and I did something that I rarely do, I went out and bought it the day it came out. The first book blew me away when I read it last year, and I just couldn't wait to read the second one. Hollow City picks up where the first one left off, with the Peculiar Children being tossed around at sea after fleeing their now destroyed home. From there, it's a nonstop adventure as they navigate Wales during the middle of World War II, trying to avoid the monstrous hollows who hunt them at every turn.
Essentially this novel is the story of a single journey of purpose as the children desperately try to save their injured ymbryne. With most of the Time Loops now raided by the wights, and nearly all of the ymbrynes captured, the children must hope against hope that they will find Miss Wren, the only other ymbryne who has not been captured. She is the only one with the power to save Miss Peregrine and the children will stop at nothing to find her.
Their journey takes them to a forgotten loop consisting of peculiar animals, a deadly run-in with a gypsy caravan and wight soldiers, a raided loop hidden in St. Paul's Cathedral, and finally to a frozen building located in an old vacation loop. The action is suspenseful and extremely well written, and it was nice to see the children using their powers in creative ways to meet the challenges facing them. And as with the first novel, their interactions were at the heart of the book. It's sometimes hard to carry such a large cast and still have each character stand out, but this book accomplishes that extremely well. It even introduces a wonderful selection of new peculiars with equally intriguing powers.
While I couldn't put this down at times, and read it very quickly, I have to confess that I didn't love it quite as much as the first one. It's not that the story wasn't compelling, because it was, my problem with it was simply that it felt like a book whose purpose was to bridge two other books, the one that came before and the one that is to come after. The characters went from point A to point B, and though a lot of exciting things happen along the way, it felt that very little was revealed about the peculiar world beyond what the reader already knew. One of the things I truly loved about the first one was the scope of imagination used to establish this strange new universe. However it should be said that now that you are in it, it is no less fascinating. And there is a brilliant unexpected twist toward the end that really pulls the whole book together. One of the great things about this plot twist is that it didn't just come out of nowhere. After it is revealed, it becomes clear that it was perfectly set up all along.
Another thing that maybe pulled this down a little for me was the relationship between Emma and Jacob, which beautifully blossomed in the first book and contained all the excitement of young love. It felt slightly stagnated this time around. It wasn't ignored, it did evolve and change, but for whatever reason, I didn't feel as though the characters were as invested in it this time around. That's sort of true of Jacob in general. A lot of his emotional reactions felt as though they didn't carry a honest punch. Conversely, I loved how Olive (the girl from the cover of the last book) became an important character, and an enjoyable one as well. And as I said before, the ending of this book is outstanding. Needless to say, I'll be eagerly waiting for next book. Oh, and the teaser picture of it on the last page is eerily perfect....more
The life of Henry Darger, one the most intriguing Outsider artists to emerge in the last thirty years, certainly contains enough mysterious elements tThe life of Henry Darger, one the most intriguing Outsider artists to emerge in the last thirty years, certainly contains enough mysterious elements to conjure up a great novel. Instead of trying to get into the mind of someone whose intentions and thoughts are much debated, Stephen Tobias decides to tell the story of the landlord who discovered Darger's alarming illustrations for his manuscript of the longest novel ever written, In the Realms of the Unreal.
While based on facts surrounding the life of Darger, this novel is the story of Nathan Learner, a semi-successful photographer who has lost his desire to take pictures after his ten-year old daughter's long losing battle with cancer. Remarried, he is surviving on his real estate holdings and a teaching job at a Chicago art school when one his long-time tenants succumbs to age and illness. When Herman Viereck is taken to a nursing home, Nathan is tasked with the chore of cleaning out his apartment and sorting through the stuff left behind. What he finds ends up being an astonishing treasure of art produced in secret over the years.
Eventually Nathan decides that the work needs to be shared with the public for a variety of reasons. The art is so unique and visionary that he feels it would be a travesty to deny sharing it with the art world, but there are also finical reasons because by selling the artwork, he can recoup the rent owed on the apartment, and later, pay for Herman's funeral. But as the art becomes a sensation, he begins to dig deeper into the experiences that caused Herman to produce the shocking images of the Vivian girls endless, horrific war depicted in the illustrations and manuscript. This investigation leads him to the unsolved murder of a child years before.
Since many of the details of Darger's life are unknown, this is the aspect of the novel that takes liberties with the story. While it's known that Darger was obsessed with the murder of five-year-old Elsie Paroubek, it's unknown why, though there is some speculation that he may have somehow been involved in the child's death. It is also known that Darger spent most of his childhood in a mental home, and the book speculates on the horrific influence it may have had on him.
While these elements are fascinating, and the main reason I read the book, the surprising strength of the novel lies in its examination of the art world and how it creates and celebrates myth in order to sell art. It's look at grief and loss is also quite compelling as Nathan comes to terms with his daughter's death, and the realization that there was much he didn't know about her.
This is a great read for those interested in Henry Darger, but I feel my enjoyment relied heavily on my knowledge of the artist's life. I strongly recommend that readers research Henry Darger before reading Outsider, or if not, then definitely after finishing it. I worry that some readers will take this account as accurate, and therefore condemn Henry Darger to characteristics that may or may not be true. ...more
The second book in the WondLa series is as equally exciting and interesting as the first. When the story opens, Eva Nine is finally free of the troublThe second book in the WondLa series is as equally exciting and interesting as the first. When the story opens, Eva Nine is finally free of the troubles that followed her throughout the first book during her journey across the strange planet formerly known as Earth. Her renewed search for other surviving humans quickly comes to an end once she's picked up by an airship whose pilot's task is specifically to set out and retrieve children like Eva who were conceived and raised in underground Sanctuaries.
Eva is hopeful that New Attica, the human city founded by Cadmus, a futuristic survivalist of the grandest kind, will become her new home. Initially she is in awe of the city, and the quirkiness of its human inhabitants. In its sheltered existence, humanity seems to have evolved very little as the humans have been kept in the dark when it comes to the immense changes to the world, and to its new inhabitants. They live and act much like society today, without much ambition. Little-by-little, Eva grows disillusioned with New Attica and the ignorance of its people. Then she meets Eva Eight, her sister who had been raised in the same Sanctuary before Eva. Their meeting sets off a chain reaction of events that will put Eva on a course of trying to prevent the destruction of her world, which she now realizes isn't the Earth she'd grown up learning about.
At it's heart, this is a story about overcoming the fear of others and trusting the actions of people more than their words, or their appearance. The message is powerful, and never delivered in a heavy handed way. And there is certainly plenty of action to keep the pages turning. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. My only problem with it is same problem I often have with second books in a series, or books that fall in the middle of a larger story. This book feels like a bridge between two bigger stories. It is missing the wonderful sense of discovery from the first book, and lacks a decisive conclusion that I image will come in the next. But that is okay with me as long as the story keeps on going.
And as always, Tony DiTerlizzi's artwork is amazing. ...more