I do not read fantasy fiction. I have been cocky (or foolish) enough to not read any of the Harry Potters, Lord of the rings, and their ilk. While for some this is blasphemous, it has never mattered to me.
What finally got me to that genre was none of these behemoths but a humble little 230 odd paged book: ‘The Ocean at the end of the lane’ by the imaginative and honest Neil Gaiman. I was introduced to Gaiman when I happened to come across his commencement address made at University of the Arts and was blown away by what he had to say. (Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI)
I thought a guy with such splendid insights into life has to be a good writer. This followed by a friend praising him and coming across some (awesome) quotes by him on social media and I knew I had to read him. I ordered Ocean online without realizing it was a genre that I had resisted with gumption as far.
The first few pages of the book took me back to ‘The curious incident of the dog in the night time’ by Mark Haddon, a book I relished. I still remember the sheer delight it was to see the world through the head of a 15-year-old child, the narrator – a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties – employed by Haddon. The narrative voice, the creative observations and the little imaginative quirks of children (especially where his day would be determined on the basis of the cars he saw on his way to school) had turned me into an instant Haddon convert
I met that child again after so many years. I met him in Ocean and I realized that I had been missing him. And here again, there were those little gems strewn across the pages (although with less consistency than Haddon) that makes one hate all adults. The beauty of these books is that you think of yourself being on the side of the child than an adult. Age is immaterial. We all have forsaken the child in us at some stage. Jolted suddenly into adulthood the child relegated somewhere deep within ourselves. The child resurfaces when it sees itself in books like these.
The point is better illustrated in the book when at one point Lettie Hemstock tells the seven-year-old narrator that there are no grown-ups in the world, he wonders: “We sat there side by side on the old wooden bench not saying anything. I thought about adults. I wondered if that was true. That they were all really children wrapped in adult bodies , like children books hidden in the middle of dull long books. The kind with no pictures or conversations.”
I remember there were times while reading when I was scared. I was scared reading a book after a long, long time. I really cannot put my finger on what it is that makes some writers more believable than the others. But I know its effect. It is almost like after a few pages, you are their mercy. And they use their words to then play with your head. Their charms are irresistible, their fears, terrifying.
Another thing I love about the book is that it a short book with short sentences. I could finally understand why people keep telling me to write shorter, crisper sentences. The prose is as taut as a tightrope. And as with all good writing, the number of places you traverse in the scare number of words the book uses borders on the incredible.
Apart from all this, the book has the little things that go into making a good book. It has its little innocuous lines: ‘Books are safer than people anyway’ to ‘I cried until I was all cried out’. It has its words of wisdom, ‘I do not miss childhood but I do miss the way I took pleasure in small things even as greater things crumbled.’
And then finally it has beauty, ‘Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, perhaps thousands; it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences…’