Friday, December 4, 2015

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William and Morrow
Genre: Literary Fantasy
Series: Standalone
Pages: 181

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Neil Gaiman’s first adult novel in over eight years ironically feels childish.  I use the word childish without the negative connotation that is frequently attached to it, but rather as a word that refers to the book’s ability to deceptively use all of the logical thought processes used by children to tell its story.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is like a requiem for your youth.  Told from the reminiscent perspective of a middle aged man, it remembers childhood’s friendships, insecurities, and nightmares and juxtaposes it with dark fantastic images and supernatural beings.  Neil Gaiman gets to the heart of youth in an untypical way but in a brilliantly creative fashion.

An unnamed middle aged man returns to the site of his childhood home after attending a funeral.  He then visits the home of his neighbor Lettie Hempstock, a friend he used to play with when he was young. As he walks to the pond on their property which Lettie always called her ocean, the middle aged man begins to remember the year he turned seven. Reflecting on his past he remembers the unfathomable danger he was in, and that Lettie was the only person who could save him.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is a book that seems to try to encompass everything about childhood into its story.  Even the length of the book (just under 200 pages) makes the story about the length of your typical middle grade book (Middle grade books are books specifically published for 1st-6th graders).

In many ways it feels like Gaiman’s new book is specifically trying to get individual readers to return to the feelings of their own personal childhood.  He uses first person narration, which is a common way to get readers directly into the minds of a book’s character.  However, Gaiman does not give his narrator a name.  So when you read The Ocean At The End Of The Lane it’s very easy to make the reading experience more about you, rather than the actual narrator.  I found the effect this created to be one of the most effective ways the author psychologically manipulates his readers.

Gaiman is an expert at recreating the actions and thoughts of children.  The prose captures the heart of what being a child is all about.  It’s especially candid with the way adults are portrayed, which is described to readers perfectly through the lens of the child narrator.

Gaiman also does an excellent job switching between reality and the mythic, all while maintaining the innocent feelings and thoughts that are conveyed by children. One second the narrator and Lettie are talking about the supernatural out-of-world things that are happening in the novel, and the next second they are talking about breakfast – all without batting an eye. These abrupt turns in conversation bring back nostalgic memories of the logical thought processes of youth, while simultaneously balancing magic with real world necessities.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel though is Gaiman’s treatment of the mythic and magical.  The out of world myths used in the story help to add a deeper meaning to the story while intriguing the reader to keep turning the pages as certain characters reveal parts of themselves that aren’t even remotely human (in a physiological sense). Gaiman also cleverly incorporates a magic system that has rules that are inspired by the same logical thought processes that are used to create rules to children’s games.

Common lessons that are usually taught to young children are weaved into the thematic fabric of the story.  Ideas such as, you can’t always get what you want, and adults don’t know everything are expertly juxtaposed with the story’s more surreal moments furthering the compelling connection between the fantastic and reality.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane has all the aspects of a brilliant novel. It balances thematic depth with nostalgia, mysterious plot, and emotional intensity all while never coming off as a paranormal cliche.  It’s a book that can easily be read over the course of a day, and many people will find that it will be difficult to put down.  Gaiman’s latest book is a quick read that will be sure to leave a lasting impression.

Score: 9.3

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