Review – Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The blog is resurrected! But as in many horror movies, it’s come back…changed.

Why did the blog go away in the first place? May reasons: long hours at work, craziness in personal lives, and a lack of interest in the book club.

So, we’re scratching the book club for the moment (we can bring it back should there be interest, just let us know) and we’ll be using this site predominantly for article and book reviews, as well as whatever flights of fancy we deem worthy. And by we I mean mainly Diana since Meghan is set to begin her library science program soon.

That’s right, people; Meghan has come over to the dark side.

So! Without further ado, here is review of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

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Synopsis

From the book flap:

“Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie – magical, comforting, wise beyond her years – promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.”

(That last paragraph is a bit heavy-handed, I think. As “delicate as a butterfly’s wing”?  Although I do hope the last bit is a reference to The Graveyard Book.)

The story is told from the point of view of a middle-aged gentleman, mostly from his remembrances of being seven. As with most Gaiman books, this one is hard to explain further without spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Review

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I got it when it first came out last June, but it’s taken me this long to find the time to read it. A sad state, that.

Gaiman has a way of melding the mundane world with fantastical happenings and beings. It’s not really magical realism, per se; magical realism, to me, is a story that tells a realistic story with magical elements. No, a Neil Gaiman book if far more akin to reality taking a fantastical acid trip.

Don’t get me wrong on this! I’ll continue to shout it from the rooftops, I love Neil Gaiman and his works. He’s not an author, he’s a storyteller. It’s just that his writing is strays towards something else. Fantastical realism? I don’t know.

I had no idea where this story was going. Gaiman has said that he started writing a short story for someone…which turned into a novella…which morphed into a novel. This is his accidental novel, going places I’m not certain even he expected. There weren’t twists and turns, really, but like the seven-year-old boy in the story I had no clue what was coming next. I also realized the gravity of each situation as that little boy did. The story isn’t predictable at all, and I loved that.

I also enjoyed that we got a good deal of character development from everyone except the boy. This only seems right to me (and I can’t believe I’m saying that; character development is usually key to me liking a story). The thing is, the story is a remembrance by the little boy’s future self. He is what he is, and it’s so hard for someone to recognize their own development. The seven-year-old staunchly stays a seven-year-old throughout, except when he’s not. It made total sense to me.

Gaiman had a bit of help with the world-building, I think. A lot of the story seems taken from the landscape of his own childhood memories, and they’re the stronger for it. Think back to your child-hood home; do you remember every bit of it? Possibly, but probably certain details stick out and others are a bit fuzzy. So they are here. We don’t get a drawn-out description of everything, just the important bits and the parts that might stand out. Shale roads, where milk cans sat, stuff like that. Perhaps that’s one of the things that makes this take seem so genuine to me. There’s a lack of artifice, in a way. And then there’s Hempstock Farm, which is described as much as a seven-year-old can explain the ungraspable.

The ending, though. The ending. Have you even gotten to the end of a story or a movie, something, and it ends before you get all the answers and you’re left yelling at the book/television/what-have-you because of it? That’s not quite this book. There isn’t a neat and tidy ending, but there never is in life. The book ends at a good point, but there are still unanswered questions. Not in a “he’s setting up a sequel” sort of way. It’s hard to explain without giving the ending away. Suffice it to say that the book ends at a point where things aren’t resolved completely, and that this gives weight to the story.

That last bit, while completely the truth and the best way I can describe it, shouldn’t warn you away from the book. I think it’s great. It’s a genuine story, beautiful in its honesty.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Review – Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane

  1. I’m new around these parts, but welcome back! I’m conflicted on this book–it was my first Gaiman read. I then worked backwards and became a big fan. I wonder if I’d like this better now. Did you read American Gods?

    • Thank you!! I’m trying to get back into things, and I finally have time to read for pleasure again (last book I read was Warm Bodies, which was reviewed last April).

      This wasn’t my favorite Gaiman book by any means. However, I appreciated the story itself and how it was told.I find it difficult to objectively review Gaiman because things FEEL right with the story, even if I didn’t like certain points.

      I have American Gods waiting to be read, but it’s an undertaking so I want to make certain I have the time and energy to devote to it. I think my favorite Gaiman book is Stardust, though I love both Good Omens (a collaboration) and the Sandman series (graphic novels).

  2. Alan

    You have piqued my interest. I’ve placed it on my reserve list. Should I read another first?

    • It’s a stand-alone book, so no need to read anything else first. Let me know what you did or didn’t like about it and I might be able to suggest another Gaiman book you’ll like even more. Let me know what you think!

  3. Bram

    So, this is my first comment on this blog…I think…

    Anyway,

    I loved ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ but more importantly (and maybe more interestingly), for some time I have been wondering if you were going to pick this blog back up, and just randomly checked it today…so yeah, there it is.

    You seem awesome, dreamy, and probably really, really good looking. We should go for a drink in Dublin sometime. It would be most wonderful craic.

    • Sir, you’re correct! I am awesome, dreamy, and exceedingly good-looking. It’s almost like you know me…

      I get the feeling that you’re extremely intelligent, the kind of person who knows multiple dead languages, and that you’re also very good looking in a punk sort of way.

      Drinks in Dublin are on, if even fleetingly possible; wonderful craic, indeed.

  4. Pingback: Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (4/5) | Taking on a World of Words

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