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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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POSTPONED – February 2012 Book Discussion

Hello friends!

Things have been a bit busy of late. I can only speak for myself and not Meghan, but I’ve turned 30, had two job interviews in quick succession, and a whole slew of other things happening. It’s been crazy! So I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait a little longer for our discussion of Warm Bodies (which, by the way, is amazing!!!). So keep reading and wait with baited breath. More details to come, and we’ll give fair warning.

And as always, send us a holler if you’ve written up your own review of the book on your own blog; we’ll happily add a link 😉

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