At long last a review. Some of you must have been patiently thinking “What is with those girls? They haven’t mentioned their favorite all around nice guy author’s book and it’s been almost half a year?” Well, Bex finally got to it.
I felt like I was cheating on Neil Gaiman, writer of my most treasured stories. I pre-ordered The Ocean at the End of the Lane and spent a nine hour evening in June of this year waiting to get the book signed. But over the last five months, the book was just sitting on top of my desk collecting dust as I spent time reading more frivolous things (actress Lauren Graham’s hilarious debut and Christopher Moore amongst others). I can’t remember even taking time to read the dust jacket. I did click on many of the reviews Neil had shared on Twitter, but I just had no desire to rush into the story. Something about the book just screamed “You aren’t ready yet.” It wanted to be read in autumn, on a cold evening beneath covers and in the presence of snuggled up cats. It wanted to be read well and enjoyed. From the jump, this book honestly just seemed to be a force exerting its own will.
Last night a real autumn chill finally set in. I was home alone and the cats were in a particularly clingy mood. I knew it was time to read the book. From reviews, I was aware it was going to be a bit of an eerie read, but I didn’t think much of it. I let the small size remind me of a children’s book. Plus, there are always quotes from book reviews mentioning scares that never materialize for me. I foolishly forgot past characters Neil had created, like Sandman’s The Corinthian and John Dee. I forgot how fearsome Neil could write. I forgot sometimes short stories are the most terrifying. Needless to say, I delved into the book unprepared. To my surprise there are a few very petrifying scenes, two or three are anguishing and heavy on the heart to read.
With the exception of the very beginning and ending, the story is narrated by a seven year old little boy with no friends and an absolute love for reading. A childhood many of his fans can probably relate to. And interesting to note, unless I missed the merest mention, our narrator is never given a name. I think Neil (like Stephen King) is at his best when writing from the perspectives of children. A child’s point of view is such a clear, honest voice with a tinge of humor and wonder; it is the right mix of absolute understanding and puzzlement. They are in this world but have one toe in the other realm of whatever is before and after. They have a mystical point blank understanding of how simple things really are or should be.
Readers familiar with Gaiman’s past works will pick up on the familiar theme of the maiden, mother and crone/ the three goddess character(s) in the shape of 11 year old Lettie Hempstock, her mom Mrs. Hempstock, and her grandmother Old Mrs. Hempstock. However, in a refreshing turn of events, the Hempstocks are helpful to the brave little boy narrator. Sure they are vague and elusive toward many questions, but they are true of heart and kind to a very frightened seven year old who has accidentally let in a bit of the havoc causing old world into this one.
I think this is the most simple story Neil has ever written. It is beautiful, painful, hopeful, it is sad and wonderful. It seems an ode to childhood – there are doors to adventure anywhere we care to look and sometimes they lead us to joyous discoveries and other times we get hurt or hurt others, or both. Gaiman has said the book was born out of missing his wife,maybe making an ocean pond sized was a way to shorten the physical distance as only a writer could.
Last night I closed the book, but the world in The Ocean at the End of the Lane has stayed open. It is resonating within me. I have spent my day in a daze, still half in the novel.
There is a line very near the end that gave me pause, “You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.” At that point, it is a very encouraging sentence. An affirmation. The Ocean at the End of the Lane may be a brief eloquent story and very shallow in appearance, but like the sea-pond, it is also very immense.
I recommend reading this book in one setting, and then returning to the beginning and reading the prologue again.
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