Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Urban fantasy, horror, adult
My Rating: ★★★★★


For me, diving into a Neil Gaiman world is some form of sweet literary suicide: you clutch a chunk of his universe in your hands and feel yourself vanishing, for a time, from your side of the world. But if there is any death involved here, it is that of the reality scoffing at the belief that fantasy can’t teach you anything worth bringing back after your short period of escapism. In a Gaimanesque world, you always bring with you something that will change you after closing the book.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a good example of this. Gaiman has made gargantuan feats before like American Gods and the Sandman series (whose fandom, by the way, has been revivified months before the release of Sandman: Overture), and they both leave lasting impressions in their readers. Ocean is an entirely different kind of giant. In only 178 pages, it has an impact that can dwarf novels thrice its size; it has the power than can both slake and renew the thirst only a fiction-famished soul can experience.

The novel follows a nameless narrator who takes a solemn stroll down memory lane (semi-literally) and lets himself be assaulted by a strange portion of his childhood. Sitting by the pond in Hempstock farm, he recalls things that have changed his life in a way no other things ever could.

If I were to describe Ocean in a few words, I’d say it’s like a well-buried time capsule of the subconscious in book form. Have you ever noticed how there are certain fragments of the past that we remember more in feelings than in memories? They are the moments that don’t quite pass the threshold of clarity until we stumble upon something that brings us a rush of high emotions to magnify them. They are extra-special because they have contained themselves in a secret space in our souls to preserve the magic of their rareness. That’s how this poignant novel reads—or feels—like.

As always, I admire Gaiman’s ability to maneuver his writing voice box without ever removing the style that you can only associate with him. It doesn’t matter how old the character is, he’ll be able to worm inside their heads and breathe them to life convincingly. The magic just flows easily. Ocean is tagged as the newest adult book Gaiman has produced in a long time; it’s true in a sense. But you can’t possibly ignore how youthful its tone is when you’re finally reading it, even if the body is mostly just well-patched-up memories. The author is more than adept in playing the storyteller’s age seesaw. It’s an amorphous thing, his storytelling technique. In the end I’d say it’s a novel for adults, for children, and for adults whose scared children-selves are curled up somewhere in their cores, waiting to be noticed again.

The tale is populated by a colorful, female-driven ensemble: on one side Gaiman toys once more with the triple-goddess trope in the characters of the Hempstocks; on the other we have a Lovecraftian creature who assumes the form of a beautiful woman. The little narrator gets torn in the middle of the conflict of the two sides—which by the way I refuse to label “good” or “bad,” as their representations are thrown over with a blanket of shades of gray due to the differences of their motives (that is apparent too, even if the seven-year-old storyteller, like any other kid, has this blatant need to identify the black from the white).

Ocean does not follow a formulaic martyr story; instead we are presented with a reel of scenes that is just that—a reel that you couldn’t do anything but watch, no matter how you dread the next scenes. I love how the main character’s helplessness and a rather shocking sense of mortality permeates through the readers. Somehow, somewhere in the middle of the whole thing, the readers will realize they will stop being a listener and take the role of an unconscious sounding board of the narrator. Sympathy is easier established than empathy, and I laud this novel for aiming for and successfully achieving to build the latter.

The clash of the female forces is depicted in a perfect ballet of wonder, reasons, and sacrifices that I could not help but marvel at. They tell us that pigeonholing of power in genders can be annihilated; that we make choices and the world is not a jury of how we deal with the consequences; that no one passes or fails as a person. They tell us a portion of the things we already know but sometimes refuse to acknowledge.

This is a good read, the kind that lodges itself in your heart because it is more than deserving to be in that time capsule of memories you make when traversing the worlds of fiction. As far as I can tell, this is the closest thing Gaiman has ever written when it comes to autobiographical stuff. After devouring this, I felt as if I’ve been given a peek at something I did not know I wanted ‘til now, and I have to emphasize it has nothing to do with Gaiman being one of my favorite authors. I have confirmed that memories are fragile things too, and though they are as breakable as the next piece of glass, they can shatter whole skyscrapers of platinum if you will give them the power to.

Five out of five stars for the memorable ride.

It’s a two-way street.

Books Listens
        –Mark Haddon

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Of mind-melds and dialogues

My dorky heart got its fix of mecha overdose in the last two weeks when I watched Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim…twice. And I’m not disappointed! I enjoyed it despite its obvious Evangelionesque and trope-loving universe. Anyway, I’ll spill all my thoughts in a review later. Last night I managed to write a two-part meta about Pacific Rim’s piloting system and Gundam Wing’s ZERO system (anyone who’s lurked around long enough would have seen that coming). Read on if you know both the show and the movie, or if it colors you curious enough to scroll down. ;)

The Drift and the ZERO System

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In Pacific Rim, Jaegers are mech-titans that the Pan Pacific Defense Corps. built as the first line of defense against the amphibious monsters called Kaiju. A Jaeger is initially maneuvered by one pilot only, but the program’s scientists realized that the neural load and mental strength required to control a Jaeger was too much for a single person to handle.

In Gundam Wing, the ZERO (Zoning and Emotional Range Omitted) System is a technology that allows the pilot to interface with the mobile suit. But the ZERO system has frightening effects too: the onslaught of raw information caused by the direct brain interface is too much for the pilot, making him “hallucinate the possible paths [he] can take; as [he] tries to figure out what is going on, the system can overload the brain with too many statistics and estimated values, causing temporary insanity.” (READ MORE)

“It’s a dialogue, not a fight.”

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Drifting is a two-way mind-melding. Once you connect to a party through the neurological bridge you create, that party will be able to cross it and connect to you…whether you want it to or not (looking at you, Kaiju-lovin’ Geizler). In GW Episode 44: Go Forth, Gundam Team, Quatre masters the ZERO System to lead the other Gundam pilots in battle. They’re clashing against the mobile dolls, which are remotely controlled by Dorothy via an altered version of the ZERO. Basked in the system’s light and influence—and without any kind of clue—the leaders of the two sides realize they are fighting each other at the same time. (READ MORE).

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Having a Writer’s Eye

Spilling my thoughts—and emotions—is almost a stimulus after I turn the last page of a book. In my bookworm circle I would be quick to jump into discussions, which are often a hodgepodge of con-crits and outbursts of fangirlism-laced blathering. But there’s always a time when I would sit quietly in front of the computer, weave my thoughts into a coherent tightness, and then let them crawl into the monitor. Sometimes I would gush, sometimes readers would hear a giggle between my words, but more often than not I’m earnest when setting my two cents onto the virtual tray that is my blog.

And then there’s always someone who will ask: “Why don’t you just enjoy it? Why don’t you just enjoy reading the book and stop looking for something you can comment on?"

The questions never fail to make me pause; I would have laughed if they’re thrown in jest. But they’re serious. It just dawned on me that when I devour any kind of literature, some people think I’m actively looking for something to include in a review.

"Why don’t you just enjoy it?" they ask.

"I do enjoy it," I would offhandedly reply.

It’s true. Whenever I hold a book in my hands, I’m largely aware that I’m holding two worlds: the story’s world and the author’s world. I can’t control it. The aspiring writer in me refuses to go blind; it refuses to un-notice the world-building, the gradual growth of flat characters into three-dimensional people, the adrenaline rush-inducing thickening of a plot, or the author’s narrating voice.

And I enjoy all these. I love having all these “back stage" happenings unfold before my very eyes. Sometimes I learn from them. Sometimes I marvel at them; sometimes I wish the author did something else that I think would make the final work better. It doesn’t feel like I’m holding the dear book under a microscope, really. It just feels like I’m getting close to its heart and its author’s heart.  It’s there and I can’t ignore it. It’s…natural.

The wonder of the whole thing goes so far that I would go on and reread some books. When I told a friend I’m re-reading a lengthy fiction, she got curious about my reasons. “It’s not like you don’t know what’s going to happen," she said. “You’ve known that in the first read. The element of surprise is lost." I told her that that may be true, but aside from reliving and relishing the “memory" of a story, I revel at the element of anticipation, too. I want to have a closer look at how the author created the twists and turns, how he handled the fleshing out of the characters, how he took the reader from here to there. I want to view these things with refreshed eyes, to know if the same emotions will boil in me when I read the same things the second, third, or fourth time around.

I savor all that alongside the show that spreads itself in front of the readers, also known as the story itself. Getting lost in this “side" of the world is escapism at its finest, and I don’t blame the people who think I’m not immersing myself fully in the bliss of fiction when my writer’s mind’s eye switch on alert mode. What they don’t realize is I’m experiencing double the joy. I’m sure there are others that feel like this way, too.

Reading is a drug; I can never refute that. But I know writing is a drug too, and I just can’t stop feeding my addiction when I know I can combine the two. :)

Safer than people.

Some people may consider this as some kind of an anti-social statement. Well, I say it’s a simple statement of a naked truth:


Bookwormism Update

Here’s what’s bunched on top of my to-read heap right now: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan.

new reads trio

And since I just finished my annual rereading pilgrimage to a favorite 68-chapter fanfiction, I’m going back to actual bookwormism. I started reading Gaiman’s Ocean on the shuttle on my way to work today. I’m going back to it right before I hit the sack. ;)

How about you? What are you currently reading?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Kiera Cass in Manila

New York Times bestselling author Kiera Cass of The Selection trilogy is coming to Manila for book signing events on August 3 at 4PM in National Book Store, Glorietta 1 and on August 4 at 3PM in the Activity Center of Ayala Center Cebu.

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Described as “a cross between The Hunger Games… and The Bachelor” by Publishers Weekly, The Selection tells the story of America Singer who is chosen to be one of the 35 girls to compete in the Selection to win the heart of Prince Maxon and be Illea’s next queen. For America, at first, being Selected is a nightmare—she has to leave her secret love Aspen, a caste below her, and to live in a palace that is threatened by violent rebel attacks. But meeting the prince changes everything she believes in.

In The Elite, the sequel which came out in April, only six girls remain to compete for the crown and only one will get to marry Prince Maxon. As the Selection is narrowed down to the Elite, the other girls are more determined to win Maxon over, and time is running out for America to decide. She is still torn between her two futures—to be with Maxon or to be with Aspen.

Kiera Cass was born and raised in South Carolina and currently resides in Blacksburg, Virginia with her husband and two kids. Her other works include the self-published novel The Siren and the short story In the Clearing, which is included in the anthology Brave New Love. The One, the final book in The Selection trilogy, will hit shelves in May 2014.

These events are made possible in partnership with Raffles Makati, the official residence of Kiera Cass in Manila, and Ayala Center Cebu.

The Selection and The Elite are available for P349 each in National Book Store, Powerbooks and Bestsellers branches. Shop online at nationalbookstore.com. Follow National Book Store on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@nbsalert) for the latest events, promos and contests.


Airiz: I’ve been hearing lots of good things about this series, but since I still have that ever-present tower of un-reads looming somewhere in the jungle of my room—most of them falling under the YA genre—I’ve put a halt on buying more. But I’ll be sure to grab a copy of the first book just to see what’s it’s all about. I think I would like to meet the author. :)

Info by NBS.