The Bookworm: No clean getaways here

No clean getaways here

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“The Ocean at the End of the Lane”

By Neil Gaiman

c. 2013, William Morrow

$25.99/$27.99 Canada

181 pages

Your mother loves to reminisce. “Remember when ” she says before launching into some often-embarrassing story about something that happened years ago. “Remember when,” two words that make you scramble to recall whatever she’s talking about.

Sometimes, though, you can’t remember when. Her stories are familiar but they aren’t, and you almost wonder if they ever really happened. Likewise, in the new novel, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman, a middle-aged man on his way to a funeral learns that Memory Lane has a dead-end.

He hadn’t meant to drive there. He hadn’t really even known what he was looking for nothing, probably, other than to see what had changed in his old neighborhood. It would be a nice departure from funeral conversation, a head-clearing side-trip, but he somehow ended up at Hempstock Farm. Up ‘til then, he’d nearly forgotten about the place.

As he walked down to the farm’s pond, memories came flooding back to him.

Lettie Hempstock (he hadn’t thought about her in years!) had once told him that the pond was really an ocean, and he’d believed her. He was seven years old that summer; she was 11 and she promised that she would keep him safe. But, of course, she couldn’t.

It wasn’t her fault that he’d insisted on going with her to the back of her Grandmother’s property, where the wind howled and a gray thing spoke to Lettie in a most improper manner. It wasn’t her fault, either, that the gray thing threw something to him and he caught it, even though Lettie made him promise to hold her hand tight.

He never blamed anyone but himself for the appearance of Ursula Monkton.

When his mother found a job, Ursula Monkton moved into his old room. Ursula Monkton was supposedly a housekeeper-babysitter, but she wasn’t the nice girl his parents thought she was. She was evil, she knew all his thoughts and plans, and she terrified him. But Lettie would know what to do about that.

Lettie Hampton always knew

Misty. That was the first word that comes to mind as I reflect on reading “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” The narrator of this short novel seems to be oddly peering at the past through doddering confusion, as if something’s foggily off-center but he can’t exactly determine what it might be.

Odder still is that author Neil Gaiman doesn’t turn up the heat anytime quick which is, I think, where the brilliance of this book lies. No, Gaiman lets his narrator share his memories with curious incredulousness and incredible calm. That allows the story to wash over readers, to overwhelm us slowly and deliciously. We’re invited into the mist, too, and it’s a squirmy thing.

For readers new to this author, consider this: If Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson had a love-child, it would be Neil Gaiman. If you’re a fan, you know that already and you know that “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is a book you’ll remember.

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“Revenge Wears Prada”

By Lauren Weisberger

c. 2013, Simon & Schuster

$25.99/$29.99 Canada

387 pages

In the Annals of Job-Quitting, the quit you executed was fabulous.

Everybody thought you were a lifer at work. Nobody thought you’d ever leave. But you’d been quietly job-hunting for months, and on the day you got the call you were waiting for (and the new position), you shocked them all. You quit quit!

And you couldn’t stop smiling.

Ten years ago, Andy Sachs famously quit her job at Runway with a big, Parisian f-bomb. But in the new book “Revenge Wears Prada” by Lauren Weisberger, she should’ve known that you can’t escape The Devil that easily.

Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Andy Sachs was sure she had that once, thanks to her assistant’s job with Miranda Priestly at Runway magazine. Now, it had been a full decade since she’d escaped, 10 years since Miranda’s ring-tone made Andy cringe.

Ten years since Andy quit in a blaze of dubious glory.

Things sure had changed in that decade.

Right after she left Runway, Andy found work as a wedding blogger. Her best friend, Lily, moved to Colorado; and Alex, Andy’s first love, broke up with her in a most pathetic way. Not long after that, Andy and her former-enemy-turned-bestie, Emily, started The Plunge, a fabulous celeb-and-picture-filled wedding magazine, the cover on which every bride wanted to be. Best of all, Emily introduced Andy to Max Harrison, and now Andy was a newlywed.

But, of course, life never runs smoothly. On the morning of her wedding, Andy accidentally found a letter from Max’s mother, and it turned out that Barbara hated Andy. That undermined Andy’s self-confidence, despite that Max was loving, handsome, and supportive. He was also good with investments: He was one of The Plunge’s earliest backers, after all.

Yep, The Plunge was good. It was Andy’s “baby,” and it made her happy. Everybody loved that magazine including Elias-Clark, the firm that wanted to acquire it, the firm that also owned Runway.

Runway, with Miranda Priestly at the helm

Oh, my, there’s a lot going on in “Revenge Wears Prada.” And you’re going to love every single page of it.

It’s always nice to reconnect with old friends, especially when they’re as sweet and smart as Andy Sachs. Author Lauren Weisberger let her character mature but she otherwise hasn’t altered those aspects of Andy’s personality. Even though it’s been 10 years since we first met her, Andy’s just as endearing as she was in Weisberger’s first book.

What’s different here is that Miranda Priestly is even more evil. Honestly, there’s one passage in this book that made my skin crawl. It’s deliciously scary, like almost out of a horror novel, and that couldn’t be more perfect.

I really don’t think you need to have read Weisberger’s first novel to understand this one; it might help, but you can get a sense of what happened pretty much anywhere. I can tell you this, though: whether you’re new to this story, or you’re an old fan from way-back, once you start reading “Revenge Wears Prada,” you won’t be able to quit.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

© 2013 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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