Monday, 26 June 2017

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Book Review

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - Reading, Writing, Booking

"I liked myths. They weren't adult stories and they weren't  children's stories. They were better than that. They just were."

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is written by Neil Gaiman and published by Headline in the UK and William Morrow in the US and Canada, where I bought my copy.

I can't believe that I hadn't read any Neil Gaiman books until last year. As a big Terry Pratchett fan I started with Good Omens, written by Pratchett and Gaiman. Then I came across this lovely paperback edition of The Ocean at the End of the Lane at Mermaid Tales bookshop when I was in Tofino for my honeymoon and decided to try out my first fully Gaiman novel. I was not disappointed, in fact I was a little surprised; described as a fairytale for adults I thought the book might be a bit cutesy, but it manages to be nostalgic and magical but also terrifying and intensely sad.

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.
A groundbreaking work as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark, 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.

In The Ocean at the End of the Lane Gaiman seems to tap into the magic discovery of childhood, while at the same time mixing in an underlying threat and incomprehension of the adult world. The story is gripping but not in an in your face way but with a slow unravelling of a story that is at once familiar yet surprising. It's a lot darker than I thought it was going to be, it has a slightly Stephen King feel in places.

"I saw the world I had walked since my birth and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger."

I really love the elements of fantasy mixed in so well with normality and everyday life; which is very much a child's world. The narrator is trying to understand his parents, death and love, but he's also mixed up in a fantastic adventure that involves eons old yet young girls, time manipulation and beings from other realms.

There are some excellent characters in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The unnamed narrator manages to be an individual but also represent all of us as adults trying to connect back again to childhood.
Lettie and her family have an engaging wisdom and freedom while being shrouded in mystery.

Ursula is just plain terrifying, a wonderful creation that shows that the ordinary can be just a frightening as the mysterious monsters of childhood.

"Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren't."

It's really hard to shoe-horn The Ocean at the End of the Lane into a genre; it's fantasy, horror, fairytale and so much more. I thought it was a book for teens, and I suppose in a way it is, but I think it appeals to adults a lot more, especially adults who are still nostalgic for childhood. It's also got some quite scary scenes and some slightly disturbing bits which wouldn't be so good for young readers.

I did find the mix of different genres a little confusing at times, which is why I've deducted half a star, but this is my only slight criticism. That and that the ending left me bereft.

This will definitely not be my last Neil Gaiman book and I am so glad I read this haunting and beautiful story.

My Rating: 4.5/5 (rounded down to 4 stars for Amazon and Goodreads etc)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - Reading, Writing, Booking

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