Sweet but a little too short
The first novel for adults since Anansi Boys in 2006, Neil Gaiman succeeds in big ways and small ways, but he also fails in many ways that matter. However, he manages to create a concoction that enchants much like Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing,’ and entertains, even for the short while.
It takes a little while to realize that you were never going to find out who the exact narrator’s name was, but you figured it never really mattered. Even the place where he lived seemed unremarkable. He grew up in a small town, the unmistakably English town of Sussex, and it seemed the magic he would soon encounter was going to make sense within the context of the locale, but it doesn’t.
Neil Gaiman, master author as he is, intended this to be about the happenings and the going ons. It may sound questionable at first but at least when you are halfway in, it becomes somewhat like that young adult’s novel. Never mind the little hints towards adultery, no one’s going to put this book down.
It’s even structured to read in one sitting, and while it felt like Neil Gaiman did a sort of cop out by phoning it in, well, let’s say this plot isn’t bad at all because Lettie, Neil’s obvious effort to get in some sort of ‘boy meets girl’ mechanic, seems like a caricature, like everything else was a caricature. The narrator’s parents were a caricature, and so was his sister.
Neil Gaiman suggested a notion that maybe the magical adventure is far more important than who these people actually are, and that maybe this is how we felt when we ourselves were little lads and lasses. If purely seen as that, it succeeds both in terms of sheer resonance and entertainment. It does make us recall possibly terrible memories like a good 200 plus page novel.
Seen from the other angle, it can also be seen as a lazy attempt at carelessly plodding through a nonsensical plot where everything seemed to be steeped in myth and in made up stuff. The narrator had often found himself in situations where deep powerful forces reigned, but it seemed a device where Clive Barker books thrived on, largely unbridled imagination with no true source or origin.
Even the ending feels like it was unfinished, with little insinuation that maybe we could be pushed beyond the point of almost non-existent characterization into substantial character development, which Neil instead deems to employ in a really strange manner in this book.
Neil’s language abounds and delights as always, but don’t expect anything of the caliber of American Gods, or even Anansi Boys here. Expect to be enthralled by the terribly audacious ideas for a day or so, Neil’s most risky work in awhile.
Now, wait for the more powerful Neil.