The Best Neil Gaiman Yet

Last week I had the great fortune of going to see Neil Gaiman speak at the Peacock Theatre for the Royal Society of Literature. It was a joyous occasion. He conversed about many things, including Daleks, Carrie and a time travelling stegosaurus. Unfortunately, although it was filmed, I cannot find a copy of the video so you’ll have to make do with the live blog from the Guardian:

Neil Gaiman saying awesome things

Given that the entire theatre seemed to queue up for a signed copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I was very lucky to be only about thirty from the front and out twenty five minutes after the talk ended.

I tried to eke it out, I honestly did, but by the end of my train journey back to Leeds, it was devoured and I think, tentatively, that it is his best work so far. It had an adult quality that I don’t think you find in many of his other books. Even when they are intended for adults, there is a child like element to them, and I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing. I’m a big fan of a good children’s book. But there was something knowing about this one that sets it apart from the others. Perhaps it is the element of recollection, which again I don’t think I’ve encountered before, although I certainly haven’t read them all. The story centres around a nameless protagonist, who returns to the area where he grew up for a funeral and ends up returning to his childhood home and remembering what happened during the summer when he was seven.

I am strongly trying to keep this blog spoiler free, especially as the book has been out for just a week. So… Essentially I think this story is about good and evil. Evil seems a little strong, and when I originally wrote this blog yesterday before WordPress LOST IT I went for good vs bad rather than evil. However, on further reflection I do sometimes think that evil is careless rather than deliberate so I think we can go with that. The good and the evil is, in classic Gaiman style, a bit mythical, a bit magical, and with a strong sense of other worldly tradition. We exist side by side this world like ignorant children. The imagination is there, as always, and the detail is often what makes it so real, like the clunker in American Gods.

The evil is, as well, deeply scary. The powerlessness of childhood is invoked here, and whereas for most of us a powerless childhood is a good thing, because let’s face it, our parents probably did know what was best, here it is impotence and cunning and isolation. It reminds you of your worst moments, but, well, worse.

I think that is all I can say without spoilering. Neil does discuss bits of the book, in more detail than me but still sans spoilers in the talk so click the link if you want more. Plus, it is too depressing to rewrite something just because WordPress LOST IT!! It’s fantastic though. Read it!


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