What is "Metaliterature"? It is literature about literature, in this case, views, reviews, and thoughts provoked by stuff I've read. I'm hoping this might be a chronicle of the brain of a life-long reader as guided by intertextual coincidence. If you like what you read, read what I like.
Currently domiciled in the Vale of Glamorgan.
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The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman
Before you start, read this disclaimer:
Fans of Neil Gaiman beware – I don’t tolerate you very well,
despite counting myself amongst you. It’s nothing personal (about you – it’s
very personal to me), and I believe it’s Neil’s own fault for being such a very
good writer. Please read on through the fan-bashing to the bit about the book.
An ocean in a bucket.
Neil Gaiman is an annoyance to me. I really (REALLY) liked American Gods but found that as soon as
I mentioned this fact to anyone, I got one of two responses: nose-turned-up
snobbery of the most scornful sort, or sickeningly gushing über-fanaticism, if
that isn’t tautological. I don’t know which is worse. The snobs I can dismiss
as most will be operating within the conceit that Gaiman is fantasy and
therefore unworthy of further study or consideration – they are very unlikely
to have ready anything by the author. The fans, though, start dribbling on and
on about the time they met him in Bath Waterstone’s or how much better he is
than the Latin American magic realists, or how his The Books of Magic comic book series (of course, they would confer upon
them specious mythic value by using the disingenuous term graphic novels) pre-date the Harry
Potter novels and you can clearly see the influence yaddah yaddah*. Regardless
of which is most irksome, it has meant that when I do read Gaiman novels or
kids’ books (mostly to my son it must be said – he loves TheWolves In The Walls)
I do so in secret and would not normally tell anyone.
Clearly, that would not add particular value to a blog about
books**. So, when I chanced upon this one languishing on the shelves of a Tenovus
shop on Clifton Street, I thought I might be able to spare 99p to rescue it and
give it an afternoon’s perusal with a view to a review***. And to be honest, an
afternoon was all it lasted. Not in any very bad way (although perhaps I felt aggrieved
that it was actually quite a short book), but rather in one of those “I’ve made
a cup of tea to drink while reading which went stone cold because I didn’t look
up again till the book was finished” kind-of ways.
If I were to put this into the context of his literary oeuvre
it might not merit a very high comparative score out of ten, given I really
(REALLY) like American Gods which
would, for me, score the highest. However, on its own in the Young Adult
crossover genre, it would probably blow the covers off the competition. I don’t
want to give it all away with plot spoilers, but in essence, a man returns to
the neighbourhood of his childhood home (which no longer exists) and relives some
magical goings-on which he had forgotten about from when he was only a young
boy, in the process revealing the forgotten minor but character-shaping traumas
of childhood, the deep-seated longings and dashed dreams of all adult children.
As with all his novels, the language is deceptively simple, toying with big
ideas in the subtext, and haunted with grief and the bitter-sweet agony of a
youth lost to the fog of memory. Yes, there’s magic in there, and yes, it’s all
a little bit much for the true suspension of disbelief, but it is certainly a
most engaging narrative. I pondered on the prevalence of Gaiman fans after I
finished, and wondered if his books are pitched deliberately just on the YA
side of adult so as to tap into the child in us all and thus come close enough to
the common denominator (without touching) that his appeal is as broad as it can
be, given the constraints on the genre. It might be so (hence the gut-churning
reluctance to be accepted into fan club), but it might also be that he has
tapped into something ubiquitous and universal, something to which I’m not able
to put a name as yet, with filigreed tendrils in us all. Those who reject their
touch are nature’s anti-bodies. Those who accept are hosts to something magical.
*Okay, so it’s clear the fans annoy me more. Of course, I
don’t want to upset the simpering idiots so I hope they don’t know how to use
**Other than to provide a handy hook upon which to hang a
review, which is most useful.
Many (many) years ago, when I first read War With The Newts, after scouring the Waterstones' internal database (whimsically named Ibid, and from which one could print the details of books onto the till roll in light- and so it seems, time-sensitive purple ink which, on the inches thick ream of leaves I printed for future perusal, faded within a few months rendering my catalogued wish list so much locker mulch) for authors with a suitably Czech-sounding name, having put away an entrée of my first slim Hrabal, a palate-cleansing Kundera and in need of a meaty Moravian main course, I think I might have completely and totally missed just how funny it was, bloated as I was by the doughy and Victorian-sounding translation and the rather unlikely ideation of the future political terroir of mankind and their unusual amphibian slaves and, latterly, sappers, the newts.
How's that for a sentence David Foster Wallace? INTERROBANG.
Well, there's no chance that Čapek's typically Czech…
Trav is back, still grieving the loss of some chickadee or other whose death almost knocked him off his game, but not too shook up to set himself up with a few more lucky lovelies whilst tripping his way through another overly complicated and rather sordidly underwhelming plot. This time, some bikers are making dirty movies with minors on the set of a future classic hot-air-balloon movie. Travis falls into the action because a rich old geyser carks it in unusual circumstances and it affects the trust fund of a former marina-mate. And hirsute intellectual Meyer wets his pants towards the end.
You may sense a fatigued, sardonic note in my precis. It's not that I don't still love John D., it's just that after embarking on the long game that is reading the entire Travis McGee oeuvre, I'm approaching the end and it feels long overdue. It's been fun, it's been enlightening, but it's also been a schlep. With the realisation I might now have fewer years left to me …
If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.
We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …