The Ocean at the End of the Lake was the last book I read to complete my half Cannonball Read, and I couldn’t have picked a better book. But boy, is it ever a hard book to write a review of.
Let’s get these two facts out of the way first: I don’t usually enjoy Gaiman’s work (heathen!). And: I loved this book. Was it a literary masterpiece? Was its plot original, more developed, deeper, more fascinating than all the other books I read these past few months? It’s not important. Not right now, when I’m writing this review just a few minutes after I finished the book. What matters is this feeling.
Our narrator is a middle-aged man, heading back to his childhood home after a funeral without knowing why. While there, memories long forgotten start coming back to him. Difficult memories. Yet, beautiful in their own way. The lonely, friendless seven-year old version of our narrator goes through terrible loss, and he deals with it with some help from the neighbours down the lane, the Hempstocks: Old lady Hempstock (the grandmother), Ginnie (the mother) and Lettie (the eleven-year old daughter).
I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot, because it is a short book and revealing more than the above would be spoiling the whole story. And it is frustrating, because I need to talk and think more about this book. Gaiman tackles some pretty serious issues, and he does it through the innocent eyes of a child, not a precocious child but a believable child, a frightened, vulnerable child. I found it refreshing to have a smart child that’s not older than his years at the centre of a story. These serious issues could break anyone, let alone a little boy, but if you’re a lonely boy with an over-active imagination you just might find a way to cope, and our narrator does.
The writing was beautiful and reminded me of a couple of my favourite authors at times, Stephen King (ca The Body/ Stand by me) and Terry Pratchett. Gaiman’s descriptions of the environment were so vivid in detail, as honest as a childhood memory, and I nodded my head in recognition, remembering similar adventures I had embarked on as a child. Magic was at the core of the story. Magic in the descriptions, magic in childhood, magic in the way a desperate child thinks he or she can change the world if only he or she can wish it hard enough.
This book had so much heart, so much sorrow and sweetness. It is a book I will be revisiting and thinking about often.