Book reviews: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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REVIEWS of Neil Gaiman’s latest, and The Attacking Ocean by Brian Fagan

The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present And Future Of Rising Sea Levels by Brian Fagan Bloomsbury, hardback £20 (ebook £11.52) * * * *

In recent years, we’ve seen just how devastating and catastrophically powerful our oceans can be. The 2004 Boxing Day Indian Ocean tsunami killed more than 230,000 people and left miles of coastal regions in ruins, while Japan’s 2011 tsunami and last year’s Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the US, Caribbean and Bahamas, were also shocking.

Best-selling author and emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California, Brian Fagan points out in his new book, oceans have been attacking land for thousands of years.

Sea levels have fallen and risen since as far back as it’s possible to measure, and coastlines and landscapes have been transformed along with it.

This isn’t just a case of the seas being more powerful, rather the vast increase in coastal populations and infrastructure. Tsunamis are more devastating because there is more now for them to devastate.

Fagan takes us back to significant examples in history, like Doggerland (now the North Sea), where in 7000 BC, people lived at the mercy of encroaching tides, and the late Ice Age, when Japan’s four main islands formed one single landmass, bringing us up to the tsunamis of recent years.

Fagan masterfully combines history, science, geology and anthropology to deliver an informative, engaging and thought-provoking read.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman, Headline, hardback £16.99 (ebook £8.49) * * * *

He’s written Doctor Who episodes, comics, short stories, speeches and picture books in the meantime, but this is Gaiman’s first novel since 2008’s Graveyard Book. That was billed as a children’s book, but delighted adult readers; this one is marketed for adults, but would also hook any inquisitive and bookish child who gets hold of it. The unnamed narrator, though adult, fully inhabits his seven-year-old self as he recounts the extraordinary events of one childhood spring, beginning when (in an incident borrowed from Gaiman’s own past) his parents’ lodger commits suicide in their car.

This stirs up uncanny forces which can only be laid to rest by the three Hempstock women, who live in a farm at the end of the lane and are all far older (and odder) than they appear.