Here’s the thing about Neil Gaiman and myself: I am not quite a fan of his writing. That statement borders on a hanging offense: But it’s not like I hate him?
I’ve had not infrequent brushes with his literary work over the years—I have a fuzzily nice memory of the Sandman oeuvre [if I had a tonfuck of money to spare, I’d get them in a heartbeat]; his American Gods will always be dear to me because that was the book I was (sort of) reading during the summer of my crazy seventeenth year—but, I’ve come to realize that the Neil Gaiman I have grown fond of is what he is (perhaps, what he’s cultivated himself to be?) online: Engaging, terrifically patient, seemingly clueless and comfortable about his rock star status all in the same breath. I mean: I suppose I like him as a person, but I must admit to ambivalence re his writing.
Right. So. All that was a winded way of saying that I picked up the book everyone was understandably in a tizzy over—what, his first book for adults in years?—and what does that mean, a book for adults? Just because this one doesn’t have any watercolor illustrations automatically means it’s not for kids? I don’t understand these arbitrary labels of contemporary publishing!—where was I? Yes. When I picked up The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I admit that it was partly because I was excited about being on an even keel with everyone re Gaiman. That is: The reading world knows Gaiman and a good portion of that loves Gaiman and has a preternatural familiarity with his work. With Ocean, I could feel more comfortable judging the merits a Gaiman book. Does that make sense?
Anyway. I liked the book, I guess. It was a quick read, very diverting, quite competent. I liked the fantastical shenanigans, I liked the matter-of-factness of family life, I liked how complex and wondrous the world was through the eyes of a very young boy. I liked the fantastical shenanigans, got seriously creeped out where I was supposed to get creeped out. Like many people, too, I found the Hempstock women fascinating—note, please, that I was a child raised on Alice Hoffman and Anne Rice, so anything with a family of witches will always feel like a homecoming. So, yeah, I like Ocean, I guess.
See? Ambivalent. (And contrarian?) While I was reading it—getting creeped out, feeling mildly threatened, yadda—I noticed a disconcerting omnipotence to the Hempstock women. Literally nothing fazed them; no problem was too dire, no apocalypse too overwhelming. They had a solution for everything—rather cunning solutions, mind you, like that amazing thing with the cutting and the stitching?—and although at the face of every obstacle this reader’s hand began to feel clammy, ultimately it felt like nothing more than a flimsy magic trick. Nothing was at stake for the Hempstock women, because their sorcery is so goddamned powerful, their blood so infused with badassery—that nothing was really a threat to them, to their kind, and to the people they’ve taken under their wing.
Fine, I suppose that’s not the point of the book. The point is nostalgia and friendship and family and loss—seemingly insurmountable loss. But I want more insurmountable, more tipped odds, in my stories of good versus not-essentially-evil. Give the gals a little challenge, ya know? Sure, they can take it—but dammit, let me see them sweat.
All that ambivalence and curmudgeon-like nitpicking aside, I pulled a typical Sasha thing and decided to give Gaiman (or, half of him?) a try: Picked up his and Terry Pratchett’s much-loved [here we go again] Good Omens about two weeks ago, and took the plunge. I wanted plot and wit and a confident dark fantasy. However, I’ve been in such a foul mood lately, whatever brilliance there could be within the distressingly-easy-to-dirty covers of this book can only tease a scowl from me. Still. We’ll see.