I have been writing reviews for such a long time now. I almost always try to write a review that is detailed, concise and balanced. As I sit here, I feel extremely lost; stuck for words on how I can best write a review of this very strange, but very brilliant book. This is the very first Neil Gaiman book I’ve read, but I’ve heard he is extremely popular and more often than not, his books go on to sell millions. In fact after looking the book up just now, this book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane debuted at the top spot on the New York Times Bestsellers list.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane tells the story of a man who leaves a funeral, back to the place where he grew up. There, he meets a woman he once knew, but can’t quite remember how and why? Upon staring and reflecting upon the duck pond in the back garden, he starts to remember his life when he was seven. He starts to recall the events when he and his friend, Lettie Hempstock who lived on the farm at the end of the lane, banished a supernatural entity back whence it came.
Being brought into the world by the suicide of a lodger, the evil takes on the form of a new babysitter – Ursula Monkton, who begins to antagonise and scare our protagonist, yet also ‘give’ everybody else exactly what they have always ‘wanted’. With the help of Lettie’s mother and grandmother, the man’s seven year old self and his friend take on the monster, as well as other scary horrors that present themselves.
I found it extremely hard to classify this book. Children’s story? Adult? Fantasy? Contemporary? And I still find it hard now. For this is a book that can be read on so many levels. At its core, I think it is a complicated story about life, the unknown and sacrifice. It uses the unknown as a sort of fantasy, so I guess it will suit fantasy fans, as well as readers who dislike epic fantasy. And did I mention nostalgic? It seems to conjure up your own memories as you read.
And to sum up this book, you could very well say that it is clever, very clever indeed. For the innocence and naivety of a child is questioned, and tested too. It takes the surreal and intangible and tries to give it form. We can easily relate to the boy in the story, and we ask the same questions he does. But he has Lettie and her family, and although they may not answer his questions, they certainly know what they are doing. And I loved how wise they came across, for ‘the oldest can remember the Big Bang.’ In fact all of the Hempstocks are brilliantly imagined, and it is Lettie who our protagonist looks up to, and turns to for help. It’s a beautiful relationship, one built on safety and understanding.
Gaiman’s writing is compelling and full of heart. I found the lengthy sentences and the simple nature of it to be very fitting of the seven year old lead. And when I say compelling, I truly mean compelling. yet it is quite hard to say why. I found myself picking up the book and reading further any spare moment I had, whether it be the time it took me walk down the stairs, boil the kettle, even take the bins out. And surely that explains my point exactly. Although, I did find the slight repetition a little frustrating.
One of the themes I loved in this book was how when we become adults, we lose that little bit of magic, that adventure, that understanding that only children seem to latch on to. As Gaiman effectively tell us – adults will follow the path exactly, whereas children will form their own path, look for the secret gap in the fence. And this is what this book is all about, discovering your childhood to seek your own identity.
The story did slow a bit in the middle, but I loved the references to the stories our seven year old lead took solace in, which links to our own connection with the story. I also felt the rather ‘adult’ bits of the story were a little odd – the unnerving sex scene, although I understood the reasoning behind this, even though it may not of been made clear – for how can a seven year old really understand?
This book is magical, it has multiple messages throughout and will undoubtedly pull on your heartstrings, because I have to admit, as I read the last chapter and epilogue, I felt myself utterly at mercy to the story. It’s a little story, but full of character. I loved the abstract approach at exploring the dark nature of things, and if you want to read a story that is original, different and utterly complex in such an understated way, then throw caution to the wind and have a stab at this. I promise you, you won’t regret it. And you’ll be rushing to give a second read through, to pick up on all of the charming nuances.
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