When I go on holiday I usually take along a stack of books to read. I know you Kindle types will be laughing at my old fangled ways with paper and ink, but I do prefer a physical book at certain times even if it does play havoc with my baggage allowance. There’s something about the tactile nature of reading a paper based novel and the way that the glue melts in extreme temperatures and all the pages fall out…I digress.
Amongst my recent stash of holiday readage I took a couple of companion pieces. Or at least that’s what I discovered after I read them because when I bought them I had no idea they would be beautiful to read on after the other. The first was Neil Gaman’s latest The ocean at the end of the lane and the second was Ray Bradbury’s Something wicked this way comes.
Both these books came by recommendation and previous experience of the authors work – I’d read a fair bit of Gaman previously, my favourite being his superlative American Gods, read my review of it here. I’d not read any Bradbury previously but I’d heard a lot about his work and not being able to talk the boys book club into having a go at one of his books, I decided that I’d be better off reading it off my own bat.
The Ocean (I’ll truncate) is a slender volume hot on the heels of the might tome that was American Gods. I read the hardback version which was a lovely treat as the physicality – touch, smell, weight – is reassuring with a story of this kind, I have no idea why…perhaps it helps to bring a realism to an otherworldly tale. This book tells the story of a boy and a girl in an almost fable like way that’s set in our world but also sits along side a magical, mythical otherworld. Gaman likes these kinds of constructs and uses them to access our childhood dreams – and nightmares – and brings them to life freely and vividly.
The Ocean is a dreamlike book that dips in and out of our so-called real existence into another supernatural and mystical realm, inhabited by flying wolf manta rays, millennia-old witches and unsettling spectral shed beings. It explores hard hitting themes as child abuse and suicide and how these affect children and the mechanisms they use to cope with them. It’s a poetic, ancient story set against the backdrop of childhood and the fear of growing up and indeed grown ups.
I had no idea Something wicked would be a suitable book to follow with. The two central characters are young boys, Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway (both great names) living in small town USA in the nineteen fifties (I think). Either way, it’s a time of innocence before the advent of the internet and mass media consumption, when the thought of the carnival coming to town would generate huge excitement.
This is a refreshingly simple tale of evil coming to visit a small town and the ghoulish delights of a devilish troupe of intolerant carnival folk – ‘Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show’ (Bradbury has a way with brilliant names) – who have been peddling their evil ways for centuries. Althought the book tells a familiar story, it’s the innocence of the tale that is part of the charm – it doesn’t try shock horror tactics – this is all about the anticipation, the atmosphere, the mood and the cracking yarn that Bradbury spins.
Something wicked is all about time and how it affects all of us. The boys are desperate to grow up and their fathers yearn for a life when they were younger. The malevolent and Mr Dark is at the black heart of the book, almost devil-like in his alluring, tempting ways.
The book easily and surreptitiously delivers themes around belief and fear and the control people have over each other, for positive and negative. It explores our feelings towards age and growth and fits beautifully with the themes Gaman uses in Ocean. The author implies that our own self centred wishes and desires are the things that restrict us from enjoying the simple pleasures in life which lead ultimately to fulfillment.
It’s a source of frustration for me that books in the fantasy/horror genre are never taken as ‘serious’ literature. Both Ocean and Wicked have been praised highly in certain circles and I would certainly join in that praise. These books use serious, grown up themes to tell entertaining and thought provoking stories. There is a real sense with both books, once opened, the real world disappears but rest assured it’s never too far away in the telling.