Aug 27, 2013

[Books] The Ocean at the End of the Lane

It's interesting how there's a near-frenzy on social media when Neil Gaiman releases a new book. Each of his published works seem fairly distinct from one another in terms of plot, but still resonate with prior works in terms of tone and style.

Many times I find myself committing to purchasing his latest title just because he wrote it, without knowing anything about the book. For many other authors, I find myself doing research on their backgrounds or want to have a decent grip on the plot before making the purchasing decision.

It was like that when I saw The Ocean at the end of the Lane. I didn't even bother to consider if I should just go the Kindle route for this book or invest in the paperback. I bought the hard copy at full price without hesitation.

And to be fair, I am rarely disappointed with Neil Gaiman, which is probably why I and many other fans gobble up his books like candy. Each is a unique enough experience on its own and almost guaranteed to be brilliant in one way or another. Sure, not all will be your "favorite" Gaiman book, but all will be pretty much an experience that you'll enjoy.


Synopsis: The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a novel by Neil Gaiman with fantasy elements. I could say that it's a fantasy novel, but that doesn't seem perfectly right. If anything, it's a story of childhood, and many things seemed magical back then.

The story is told from the perspective of our unnamed protagonist who has returned to his hometown for a funeral. While there, he finds himself wandering about until he ends up at the old Hempstock farm where he remembers having a friend named Lettie. He takes a chance and asks the resident if she's still around - although it's not immediately clear if he's talking to Lettie's mother or Lettie's grandmother. Given Lettie isn't around, he goes on to see the duck pond at the back of the house that she used to refer to as her ocean. And then the memories begin.

He remembers a time when he was much younger and Lettie was about eleven. They first met because a lodger had stolen his father's car and had driven it down the lane. The car had come to rest near the Hempstock farm and the car thief was dead inside the vehicle. This event was followed by strange occurrences of people coming into money or money being found in strange places like inside a fish. And when the protagonist wakes up with a coin lodged in his throat, he then turns to Lettie for help. And for some reason, the Hempstock women are indeed in a position to help.

The reason I'm somewhat hesitant to label this as an outright fantasy novel is the interesting and gradual pace that we are introduced to the more supernatural elements of this story. Instead of being thrust right into a world with magic, we instead are immersed in the history of our narrator - thus we are immersed in his childhood. And this setup is done quite well in such a fashion that helps the reader find himself right there holding Lettie's Hempstocks hand as we walk through her farmstead.

And the ultimate "villain" in this story isn't even purely evil, but yet another creature acting on its nature. And that's one of the things I always appreciate about these stories as well. It's not passing moral judgement on the characters whether "good" or "evil" - instead everyone is acting on their roles in the greater scheme of things. And thus that leaves you as a reader wondering whether or not you can really look down on certain characters because they just can't help who they are.

The tone of this book is definitely a lot like other Gaiman stories like Coraline or MirrorMask. But at the same time this is not a "children's book" just because the story is centered around a child - something that can also be said of many Neil Gaiman stories. I can imagine some folks in the "young adult" market reading this book and enjoying it while any adult will find something in this book as well. After all, we were all once children before. We all feared the dark and what mysterious things we imagined lived under our beds. And this book manages to tap into that part of our shared history.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a magical book that transports you back to a simpler time, back to your childhood and back to your more primitive or baser fears. It's elegant in its simplicity and on the whole just a wonderful read. I'm glad to rate this novel a full 5 people coming into unexpected money out of a possible 5.


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