Ex-Libris #1: Oceans and Peanut Butter

As I recently explained here, I am a big fan of book swapping. You give away something you don’t want, and (hopefully) gain something you do. Or at least you gain a new book to read. And only for the price of postage. Bargain!

Here is a bit more about my most recent swap…

15783514Given: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

So, a middle-aged man returns to his childhood home and the (disturbing) past that he had forgotten all comes flooding back. The man remembers finding a dead body in a car, which is the sort of thing you might repress, I suppose. But this leads on to his remembering all sorts of bizarre events – a super sinister childminder/being taking control of his house, a pond that is really an ocean, a family who have been around since the big bang, etc. etc. I can’t even explain what happens really, it’s just odd.

In many ways, it is a very clever book. Everything is presented from a young boy’s perspective, and all the childhood emotions of fear, uncertainty, excitement, awe and wonder are clear and bright. As a reader, you are taken on a trip back to your own childhood, when you felt things that bit more urgently and keenly, and when what is real and what is imagined is blurred. Is it all real? Did any of it actually happen, or is the man just remembering what it was like to be a child? Who knows.

I won’t say I didn’t like it at all, but I can’t say I enjoyed it either. It was all just a bit too weird for me. It was like a really strange, and slightly disturbing dream – you go along with it, but none of it really makes any sense, and you are left with it lingering over your shoulder somewhere, in that way that some dreams can be hard to shake off. Recently, we found one of my sons Top Trumps cards in the toilet; it was one with quite a grotesque picture of The Penguin (from Batman) on it. It turned out that my younger son had put it there, because he didn’t like it, and it was his way of neutralising the threat, I suppose. That’s kind of how I felt about this book. It wasn’t scary, as such, but unsettling. And I felt the need to get rid of it, to purge it from my bookshelf. I guess it is an indication of what a very different book it is, and how it managed to wheedle itself into my brain. But I think I’d rather forget about it.

3146159.jpgGained: The Voluputous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg

I won’t deny it, I chose this book purely because of the title. I grew up on peanut butter and jam sandwiches (which was regarded as slightly odd for a British child in the 80s, but my Mum was from the States). It is another book which seeks to evoke childhood – this time all the emotions and imaginings of two young girls growing up in what was Rhodesia in the late 1970s. I can’t really give a decent review of this book, since I didn’t finish it. It wasn’t bad, as such, but it just didn’t really grab me. It took me a long time to read the 5 or 6 chapters I did read, and was one of those books that I carried around in my bag for ages while I did the crossword on the train instead. Not a great deal seemed to happen, and I got bored of descriptions of the farm and their Grandfather – I just wanted some action. Not even the prospect of finding out what (if anything) peanut butter had to do with anything could keep me going. Did I miss anything? Has anyone read it? What did you think?

Verdict: Was the swap a success?

Well, I didn’t really enjoy the one I gained, so in that respect, no. But I did get rid of a book that spooked me, without having to flush it down the loo, so in that respect, yes. Draw.

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