The Ocean at the End of the Lane

As we age, we become our parents

My first introduction to Neil Gaiman’s work was American Gods, not the book, but the TV series. The first few episodes were engrossing. But then halfway through the season, I lost interest. Maybe it was the mysticism, maybe it was the violence. And since then I had not bothered to read a Neil Gaiman work. Till now.

Lately, while browsing Goodreads and Reddit, I kept coming across recommendations for this book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is a short story, they said. It has elements of magic, fantasy, and symbolism, they said. That drew me to this particular book. The beginning was quite captivating. This is the story of a lonely young boy living in a village in Sussex county in England. He loves books, the second thing that the protagonist has in common with me. A series of events leads him to meet his neighbour, a young girl named Lettie Hempstock. The Hempstocks are a mysterious family, consisting of three generations of women living on a big farm. Strange events start happening in the village after which the narrator heads out with Lettie to defeat the “monster” that is causing these events to happen.

The story is short and does include a lot of magical elements as promised. The symbolism of the duck pond as the ocean is quite fascinating. The book is filled with beautiful comparisons and observations. I especially loved the author’s explanation of the difference between children and adults.

Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.

This struck close to my heart. This was effectively the description of the rat race that people, once they grow old, enter into and never manage to come out.

For me though, once the mysterious events started happening in the book, the story took a deep dive (possibly into the pond, sorry the ocean) and never came up again. But this is not judging the quality of the book. Fans of Gaiman will probably enjoy it. Readers who are into the magic, fantasy, symbolism genres would also appreciate it. Unfortunately I’m not a fan of this and hence the feeling of being disappointed.

But still I give the book full marks for its poignant observations on certain topics, adulthood – I do not remember asking adults about anything, except as a last resort,” books – I went away in my head, into a book. That was where I went whenever real life was too hard or too inflexible,” and life in general – “You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.” Read it for the magical story and such fascinating introspections of the protagonist. I may  or may not pick up another Neil Gaiman book but these highlights in my book will stay close to my heart forever.

Featured Photo Credit: Cristian Palmer

Throw me to the wolves by Patrick McGuinness

This was a reddit recommendation and a much needed change of genre after ploughing through quite a few avoidable books in the non-fiction genre. I wanted to read a mystery/crime/thriller but wanted to steer clear of the unreliable narrator trope that is currently the in-thing in these categories of novels. A reddit user recommended this book and after reading the synopsis I felt hooked on to it.

Throw me to the Wolves is a novel about a crime, an investigation, and a suspect. The focus is on the police investigation and the back story of the suspect. Patrick Guinness interweaves these two main timelines along with side characters and a memorable inclusion of the incidents related to the sewer system of England in the 2010s. The author deftly moves in between these different events and paints an initial cynical portrait of a police office and his partner as they race against the red-tops and other morally questionable news outlets to solve the murder of Zalie Dyer.

The author is quite observant and has a witty style of writing. The prose is beautiful and a joy to read. At times though, I felt that the author did go overboard with the similes and metaphors but there is nothing jarring about his usage. Mr Wolphram, the prime suspect, has the choicest of dialogue, and his measured and precise replies to his interrogators paint an intelligent and confident persona of him that is a delight to meet.

All times are specific, Officer, it’s people who are not.

What I didn’t like about the book was that the plot seems to go nowhere almost till halfway through the book. The author seems to focus on the school events – that forms the backstory of the suspect – more than the investigation. Although this timeline plays somewhat of a minor role towards the end, it feels like a needlessly long drawn out narrative just to prove a single point. Towards the end of the book, the investigation suddenly picks up speed until the detectives solve the mystery almost within a few minutes. This jolt felt quite unrealistic and jarring from the meandering pace that the rest of the book follows.

But again, McGuinness writes a beautiful story. The chemistry between the lead pair of detective brings to mind a likeness to recent pop culture. It was like watching a season of True Detective. The description of the school and its students feels straight out of the iconic Another Brick in the Wall song by the inimitable Pink Floyd. Although debatable, this song also showcases the ugly side of the authoritative school system of Britain back in the days. The Trial is one of the most haunting chapters to read and would bring forth dark memories of school for many readers. Readers be warned.

The pain he inflicts has footnotes. The snap of the torturer’s glove is as pleasurable to a certain kind of person as the pain it presages, and the Doc is that kind of person.

Throw Me to the Wolves is a must read if you’re a fan of the police procedure sub-genre. But whether you’re a fan of the crime genre or not, I would recommend it for the beautiful observatory and on-point prose by the author.

Featured Photo Credit: Benjamin Davies