When it comes to the Hempstocks, picking a favorite would be like trying to pick a favorite child or kitten. You just don't try, though you might sit and marvel at how they differ from one another or how much they are alike.
Sometimes other readers bring a wonderful new aspect to a story. [Try Christina Pickles' reading of "Chivalry" from Selected Shorts or Lenny Henry's reading of "Anansi Boys."] But there are times when Neil is the best one to read his stories. His voice is comforting and gentle, even when the character he's reading is being matter-of-fact or coming to terrible realizations.
It's a funny thing to say that one story or another is more personal to an author. Any story well made is very much its authors, no matter how fantastic and far from autobiographical. This time it seems to be more intimate; that while this isn't autobiographical there's a lot of Neil's own character poured into this narrator.
I'm nearly fifty years old and I don't remember being scared by a book since I was very young. I've been anxious, enthralled, aching with suspense, burning with anticipation, or worried for a character I really liked, but never actually scared. Until this one.
This book scared me. Not because the images of the story felt threatening, but because it made me stop in a public place, look around me, and realize in a vivid way that the world is not always a good place.
It's in a good way—a constructive way. The very best way, because it shares a bit of wisdom and puts you on your guard against it. It's the same kind of fear as you might have of dragons, if you were afraid of dragons, and if you'd also heard Neil tell you G. K. Chesterton's ideas about how dragons can be beaten.
There are no dragons in this book. Not exactly. But maybe more horrible than dragons are the smallest terrors; the almost innocent ones.
There are people who like some of Neil Gaiman's works more than others. Not because the stories are better or worse, but because they're about different sorts of things. Some lean more towards "American Gods" while others are more eager for "Stardust." Still others will like Neil's episodes of "Doctor Who" best, and some will have complete collections of "Sandman" or know by heart which short stories are in which of his collections. [It's hard to think of any authors who have been as successfully prolific in so many different ways.]
What's special about "Ocean at the End of the Lane" is that it will be a book which is best loved by all the different kinds of Neil Gaiman fans. It has the essence that is the best of all his forms, yet is entirely new and takes us to wonderful new places. His craft is the best it has ever been.
I've enjoyed many Modern Scholar series books, and I did enjoy this one more than once. This is one of the best Modern Scholar books there is.
Professor Filipe Fernandez-Armesto
Okay, I grant that Professor Fernandez-Armesto has a wonderfully distinctive speaking and lecturing style, but it's actually quite marvelous.
Have you ever watched The West Wing and caught the character of Lord John Marbury as played by Rick Rees? There are times you'll swear Lord Marbury was inspired and modeled after Professor Fernandez-Armesto—not only in mannerisms but in brilliant insight, perception, and talent to get straight to the heart of an idea. So if you find the speaking style a bit disorienting at first, think of John Marbury delivering it and you might even find yourself smiling. Soon the ideas themselves will shine through, and they will kindle your imagination and sense of wonder sufficiently you won't even remember you noticed anything out of your experience.
Truly one of the finest Modern Scholar books ever recorded. Only Professor Drout's are in the same league.
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