Posts Tagged ‘Neil Gaiman’

joylandThe ghosts of summer past haunt Stephen King’s beguiling coming-of-age novel Joyland (Hard Case Crime, purchased paperback), set in a North Carolina coastal amusement park in 1973. For rising college senior Devin Jones, working at the park means wheeling the popcorn wagon and running rides, hearing the fast-paced pitch of the carnies — “time to take a little spin, hurry hurry, take a ride upstairs to where the air is rare” — and little kids squealing at the sight of Howie the Happy Hound Dog doing the Hokey-Pokey. The sweat pours down his neck when he is “wearing the fur” in the melting heat, but a shiver runs down his spine in Horror House, where a pretty girl was viciously murdered a few years back. Dev, nursing a broken heart, is intrigued by the stories of her pleading ghost, especially after hearing details of the crime from his landlady and the strange behavior of his buddy Ted who saw “something” on the ride. Add in a pragmatic fortune teller whose prognostications have a way of coming true, old-timers who know more than they tell, a sick little boy with supernatural sensitivity and a beautiful mother, and Dev’s got a summer he’ll remember the rest of his life.
Joyland reads like the memoir of a mystery as Dev looks back; the atmospheric narrative is laced with nostalgia and an older man’s musings on mortality and friends gone by. But King grounds his characters in reality and tethers the dialogue and details to the time. Take it for a spin. Enjoy the ride.
oceanlaneNeil Gaiman’s hushed new fantasy The Ocean at the End of the Lane (William Morrow, review copy) is a dream of a book, one that leaves you unsettled and staring at shadows, trying to remember…
The nameless narrator is attending a funeral when he takes a break and drives down the English country road where he lived as a child. The house is no longer there, but the landscape is familiar enough for him to recall when his bookish 7-year-self was caught in a mysterious battle between good and evil. He remembers his parents and sister, the cherry-faced opal miner who boarded with them, a nasty governess called Ursula, and the neighbors down the lane — Lettie Hemstock, her mother and her grandmother. They are old-fashioned, and it turns out, immortal. Their magic is somehow mixed in with the pond that Lettie calls her “ocean,” and when something monstrous buries its way into his heart, the Hemstocks’ secrets come to his aid. But then the hunger birds descend to rip the world to pieces.
So yes, it’s a dark dream, but one tempered by Gaiman’s lovely writing and imagery, plus a suitable ever-after of an ending.
shininggirlsSomething seriously creepy stalks Lauren Beukes’ genre-bending The Shining Girls (Little, Brown, digital galley), a serial killer with a whopper of a secret — he can travel through time. In 1931 Chicago, Harper Curtis stumbles from Hooverville into a house that turns out to be a portal to future eras. Inside the house are the names of his future/past victims and anachronistic souvenirs he will take from one murdered woman and leave with the disemboweled corpse of another. Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that; Beukes’ explanations tend toward the vague but all credit to her for keeping track of Harper’s victims, “the shining girls” he spots in one time and returns to kill in another. Only Kirby Mazrachi, first spotted in 1974 as a 6-year-old, survives Harper’s attack in 1989, and in 1992, while working as an intern at the Sun-Times, she begins to connect the mind-boggling dots with the help of a cynical sportswriter.
The tricky narrative jumps around from Kirby hunting Harper, to Harper hunting victims, to victims unknowingly living out their last days or hours. Not for the faint-hearted.
bellwetherHow did I miss Benjamin Woods’ The Bellwether Revivals (Viking Penguin, digital galley) when it came out in hardcover last year? Now available in paperback and e-book, this British academic mystery — a cross between Brideshead Revisited and A Secret History — is so my cup of tea.
Oscar Lowe, bright, bookish and working as a health care assistant, is drawn by organ music into the chapel at King’s College, Cambridge, and thus into the privileged world of the Bellwethers. He’s taken up as almost a mascot to medical student Iris Bellwether, her musically gifted brother Eden and several of their friends. But his love affair with Iris is threatened by Eden’s increasingly bizarre behavior, underscored by strange musical therapy experiments.
Readers know from the beginning that something terrible happens involving at least one body and Oscar waiting for the police, but the trip from there to the end is still suspenseful, strange and lovely.

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The circus is coming . . .

Thrilling news, but only the reveurs — the dreamers sweetly obsessed by the mysterious night circus —  hear it ahead of time. Otherwise, the circus appears without warning, its black-and-white tents suddenly there. Le Cirque de Reves:  Opens at nightfall, closes at dawn.

 Step right up! This way to the Hall of Mirrors, that tent for the Cloud Maze! Get lost in the Labyrinth, pause in the  Garden of Ice! Marvel at the flying kittens, the living statues, the contortionist in the glass box, the illusionist with birds of feather and fire! Follow the Tunnel of Stars to catch the Carousel! Right this way, past the towering clock and glowing bonfire! Have a sugar flower, or a caramel apple! Step right up!

Prepare to be enchanted by Erin Morgenstern’s extravagantly imaginative debut novel The Night Circus. Magical and mysterious, it is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of. The turn-of-the century villagers who wander spellbound from tent to tent are unaware the circus is really an arena in which two sorcerers,  trained since childhood, compete against one another in a duel of magical skill.  That it is a duel to the death even the adversaries, Celia and Marco, do not know. Of course they fall in love, and the fate of the circus — and all whose lives are entwined with it — hangs in the balance.

This is the major plot of  The Night Circus, but its various storylines are overshadowed by the authorial flourishes. You become so entranced by the scenery, Morgenstern’s phantasmagorical images and poetic prose, you almost forget the play and the players.  Intriguing characters such as clockmaker Frederick, the twins Poppet and Widget, dreaming farmboy Bailey, and fortuneteller Isobel, become lost in the shuffle of flashbacks, the swirl of smoke and mirrors.

Morgenstern characterizes The Night Circus as a fairy tale, and it is by way of  such modern masters as Angela Carter, Ray Bradbury, Susanna Clarke, Peter Beagle, and Neil Gaiman, as well as the Victorians and Grimm. But that you can see how she does it  doesn’t make her magic less impressive. Step right up!

Open Book: I first read a digital galley of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (Doubleday) provided by the publisher through NetGalley. But then when it came out in hardcover a couple of weeks ago, I bought a copy because it is such a beautiful book, inside and out.

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I’m ready to follow Tim Burton’s Alice down the rabbit hole, curious to see how his imagination meshes with Lewis Carroll.  I love Alice ‘s Adventures in Wonderland and its companion Through the Looking-Glass and often find myself quoting from the books. “Down, down, down.”  “Curiouser and curiouser.” “I knew who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” “Oh, my ears and whiskers!”

I admit there’s not much call for “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/All mimsy were the borogroves,/ And the mome raths outgrabe.”  But I love the sound of the words. Jabberwocky!

But as Alice herself says, “what use is a book without pictures and conversations?” Carroll’s tales have many nonsensical conversations and fantastical characters, but the illustrations can make a difference between a nice children’s book and a masterpiece. Like filmmakers, artists are challenged to bring Wonderland to life.

I think my first Alice was a laminated copy with a cover illustration from the 1950s Disney animated version. It disappeared years ago, but I still have a red leather “classic” with the famous John Tenniel illustrations. I can remember drawing pretty good copies of Alice looking up in the tree at the Cheshire Cat.

Tenniel’s Alice is a stumpy little thing (except when her neck grows), quite different from Arthur Rackham’s more ethereal, fairy-tale creature or Mervyn Peake’s sprite. Michael Hague depicts her with long brown tresses in a party dress and Mary Janes, while Barry Moser’s wood engravings show a more modern moppet with a cloud of dark hair. To my mind, Moser has the best white rabbit. Having seen several of Burton’s drawings, I like his Cheshire Cat.

If you’ve read Neil Gaiman’s Coraline with its illustrations by Dave McKean, or seen the animated film, which is up for an Oscar, you’ll know that a talking cat plays quite a large role in that story. Other similarities include a small locked door, a tunnel like a rabbit hole, a beguiling heroine, assorted eccentrics and a rather terrifying adventure in an alternate world.  Watching the movie the other day, I hoped that Burton does as good a job with Alice as director Henry Selick did with Coraline, which has a bit of Burton about it. Turns out that Selick also directed Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Ah! Curiouser and curiouser.

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