Read my short review of this short novel here: http://acbrv.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/let-down-by-a-master-of-the-mysteriously-macabre/
Longtime readers may remember that Neil Gaiman and I have a bit of an up-and-down relationship. Sometimes (Stardust, Neverwhere), he and I are on the same page. Sometimes (Coraline, The Graveyard Book), I have trouble deciding what I think about him. And sometimes (hello, American Gods), I just can’t even. I think a lot of my issues with Neil Gaiman boil down to the fact that I am a geek, and therefore, I am supposed to love Neil Gaiman. And while I think he is a wonderfully talented and imaginative writer, he just might not be the writer for me.
And this is pretty much how I felt while reading TOATEOTL (how’s that for an acronym?). I liked it just fine. I thought parts of it were quite lovely, actually. But did I love it? No. Would I put it at the top of a list of my books of the year? No. But should you read it? Sure. Yes. Indeed.
By now, almost everyone knows the story. An unnamed narrator returns to his childhood home for a funeral. While visiting his former neighborhood, he starts to remember things he hasn’t thought of in 40 years…and the story takes off from there.
Mostly told from the perspective of a bookish, lonely, 7 year old boy, we are soon thrown into a story of memories. And the thing about memories is…are they always completely reliable? Does our now-grown narrator actually believe the things he’s started to remember once he pulls up to the Hempstock farmhouse? Or does he just not want to believe these things, because, really, how could they possibly be true?
I liked the fact that the bulk of the story was told by a 7 year old. I liked his innocence and the complete trust he had in his new friend Lettie. I loved his ability to be bowled over by a delicious piece of honeycomb, when really, he had other things he should have been worrying about. And I loved the pure way that he looked at the world and its people, in a very black/white, good/evil manner.
And to be honest, I liked a lot more about the story. And I found it pretty scary. The stuff with his dad and the bathtub? Terribly frightening. The woman made of pink and grey cloth? Eek!
So what am I so “bleh” about? Honestly, I’m not even sure. But I just don’t “enjoy” the Neil Gaiman experience as much as I would like. This wasn’t a very long book, but I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me over a week to read it. I just didn’t really care. The pages (some of which, yes, were beautifully written), just didn’t call out to me. Sorry.
But I’ll keep trying. One of these days the right Neil Gaiman book might just come along, and I’ll be ready for it when it does.
You can read more of my reviews — Neil Gaiman included — on my blog.
“Words save our lives, sometimes.” – Neil Gaiman (in the acknowledgements)
“Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.” – Lettie Hempstock
These two excerpts from The Ocean at the End of the Lane perfectly encapsulate what I love about this book, and Neil Gaiman in general. Simple, evocative, sincere, and just a little bit poignant, Neil Gaiman knows how to paint such a vivid story with his words.
Ocean tells the story of an unnamed seven-year-old boy who is shy and bookish, and lives a normal life until the day he stumbles upon Lettie Hempstock and the Hempstock farm, where he finds a world beyond anything he’s ever known or imagined. This is one of Gaiman’s adult fairytales (my favorite kind of his style) and involves, as they usually do, an innocent child going up against evil forces that seem to be so much more powerful than the child himself.
This book is a short one (clocking in at 181 pages), but it packs so very much into those pages. This book really contains two stories: the fantastical one of the boy and Lettie fighting against a ghoulish presence, and our narrator stepping out into the world. The fairytale portion both encompasses and transcends the good vs. evil template; if they do not destroy the ghoul it will destroy them, but as Lettie points out, the ghoul isn’t really good or bad, it is just acting according to its nature.
The story of our narrator is so easy to relate to (especially for those of that were bookish and shy children) because it contains familiar themes that everyone goes through at some point: Tension with one’s parents and siblings, the realization that grown-ups don’t know everything (and along with that, the realization that your parents aren’t infallible), finding your way, standing your ground and fighting for what you believe in. The world is a messy place and we all have our own paths to finding ourselves, our own traumatic experiences that stay with us well into adulthood. This is where Gaiman is at his best, and I soaked up every word of it.
Ocean has a little bit of everything and comes together to create a touching and exhilarating tale of magic and finding your way in the world. Gaiman’s writing is captivating, and this book was a joy to read, I reveled in every page and at the end I only wished there were more.
I have kind of been putting off writing this review because it’s Neil Gaiman and I liked the novel, but I wanted more. I admit I didn’t read too much about the novel before ordering it because the words “fairy tale” and “new adult novel” were enough to get me excited. I have never really been much of a short story person or a graphic novel person, so there is actually quite a bit of Gaiman’s work that I haven’t yet read. I admit my first reaction to this novel upon opening my Amazon package was disappointment: “but it’s so small!” I wanted to be immersed in Gaiman’s world for hours and hours, not an afternoon.
Halt, the contrarian approacheth! Hey, now, I take offense to that moniker. I can’t help it if I happen to disagree with public opinion more than your average person, especially when it comes to Neil Gaiman. And it’s not for lack of trying. According to Goodreads, Neil Gaiman is my third most read author with 20 books, behind only Stephen King (39) and Kurt Vonnegut (21). It’s easy to like Gaiman the person, despite his pairing with Amanda Palmer defying explanation in my opinion, but liking Gaiman the author is more of a challenge.
He’ll forever have my respect and admiration for having written The Graveyard Book, but everything else pales in comparison. The first couple volumes of the Sandman series are honorable mentions and that’s all. Gaiman continues to let me down one way or another with each book of his I read not named The Graveyard Book, yet still I keep coming back and my expectations remain higher than they rightly should be based upon past experience. Gaiman is the king of geekdom, according to Pajiba, so of course I expect more of him than I would of most authors with so disappointing a track record. Anyone and everyone I see talk about Gaiman can’t say enough good about the man. I only want to see, if only for a brief moment, what they see.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, unfortunately, allowed no such glimpse into their minds. As with most of the later entries in the Sandman series, I found the prose dull, and the fantastical plot not very fantastical. Perhaps it’s because I’ll forever hold up any “adult” work of fantasy up to the essentially unattainable standard set by Pan’s Labyrinth, but nothing in The Ocean at the End of the Lane struck me as fresh or particularly imaginative. Gaiman seems to make a living leaning on genre tropes, on retelling stories that’ve already been retold in various forms. For some, that’s a positive. Clearly, I’m not one of those people, and I’ll leave it there, lest I incur even more wrath from the Gaiman faithful.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.
Our unnamed narrator returns to the old farm near his childhood home after a funeral in Sussex. He remembers his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock, who lived in the old farmhouse, at the end of the lane near his house, and while looking out over the pond in the back (which Lettie claimed was an ocean), he slowly remembers the strange and horrifying events of his childhood, after one of his parents’ lodgers stole their car and killed himself, not far from the house. There are dark and inexplicable consequences, and the three generations of Hempstock women help our narrator try to set things to rights.
This is Neil Gaiman’s first book for adults since Anansi Boys in 2005. As that book is probably my least favourite of all his works, with the notable exception of Marvel 1602 and Eternals (which were so boring I don’t even have the words), I was hoping that the excellent writing in his books for children and young adults would carry through to this story as well. I had very high expectations, because for all that I think his shorter fiction (comic book issues, short stories) is what he does best, it was just so unexpected and exciting to discover, early this year, that he had a new book out. Of course, this dark fable is a sliver of a book compared to, for instance American Gods. It’s much more like Coraline, both in size and tone.
Read the rest on my blog.