ARMCHAIR BOOK CLUB: Top read sends chills on the hottest of summer days

Horror, murder mystery and fantasy seem to be the reading stuff of summer.

Horror, murder mystery and fantasy seem to be the reading stuff of summer.

Maybe it’s the page-turning ease, or more likely the chills sent down our backs, which make these dark books so attractive in the summer heat.

Just released and already sitting at No. 4 on the Globe and Mail bestseller list is a short, dark and intensely terrifying book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Neil Gaiman is known for a variety of writing — fantasy, horror and graphic novels. He is also the author of Coraline, which was made into the 2009 movie of the same name.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a chokingly vivid yet dreamlike depiction of the powerlessness of childhood. The book opens with a narrator, who after attending a funeral, drives down a country lane to a ramshackle farmyard he vaguely remembers from his youth.

He doesn’t know why he is compelled to visit, but once he sits at the edge of the barnyard pond, horrifying memories of his seven-year-old-self come flooding back.

He recalls witnessing the aftermath of a car crash at the end of the lane. That crash disturbed the boy, but on a larger scale disturbed the order of the universe. Something happened to unlock a portal so that shape-changing fantastical creatures could cross into our world.

Soon after the crash, the narrator pulls one of these evil creatures from his foot. Shaped as a worm, it breaks as it’s tugged, and a piece of the other world is left inside the boy. That is not a good thing. Fortunately, the family who lives on the farm at the end of the lane, and who are strangely convinced their pond is an ocean, use their powers to protect the boy from more harm.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane could have been nothing more than a jumble of fantasy clichés. Beyond the portals and scary creatures, it has wrinkles in time, a quirky nanny, flying Nazgul-like creatures and prescient grandmothers.  It combines Stephen King’s nail-biting suspense with dark magic reminiscent of The Night Circus and Japanese tales by Haruki Murakami. And yet because of Gaiman’s talent, intellect and bizarre imagination, The Ocean is absolutely unique.

But be warned: This story will worm its way into every reader’s dreamscape, and stay there for some time to come.

Heather Allen is a writer and reader living in Penticton.