Neil Gaiman, what can I say? I’d heard his name so many times before I ever picked up one of his books, but boy am I glad I did. I have always been a fan of mythology and fairy tales and, though there may be others out there whose books I haven’t read, I feel I can say without a doubt that he is a true master of his craft. Never have I read a story that blends reality and fantasy so seamlessly while simultaneously tackling the themes that surround the human psyche.
Last year, I finally picked up my first Neil Gaiman novel, Stardust. I’d seen the movie and I really love it. The book was amazing. Different from its film adaptation in some aspects, but to be expected. Still, I couldn’t believe how well the book was written. Being of a naturally suspicious nature, I picked up my next Gaiman book, American Gods, with the presumption that it would not live up to its predecessor. After all, the good books get made into movies, right?
Truly blown away. Not only did America Gods – now a hit series on Starz – exceed my expectations, I dare say it was better than Stardust. I moved on to Coraline, an animated movie I’d seen, not understood, and walked away from without a decisive opinion on. The book made sense, and I loved it!
Enter: The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I started off 2018 with this book because I had a few hours to kill in a waiting room and it was fairly short. At first, I thought perhaps Gaiman had drifted into another genre. It seemed a very normal work of fiction in a realistic setting with an average character, and though a little disappointed, I was intrigued. I had grown to love Gaiman’s writing style so much, and the intro was so catchy, that I was hooked regardless.
*Minor thematic spoilers ahead*
In true Gaiman fashion, there I was, one minute driving down an old country road in Sussex, and the next, sitting by an ocean that looked like a duck pond. The narrator, who is unnamed, is a middle-aged man who returns to the farm of his childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock, and begins to recall a major event from his childhood.
Though the story follows two children, one seven and one around eleven, this is not a children’s book. In many ways, it is similar to Coraline, where a child crosses the veil into the world beyond the one we live in and encounters both the supernatural and the preternatural, but that is really where the similarities end. There are a number of instances where the narrator’s encounters with the otherworldly forces in the book might leave unwanted images in a child’s mind. It is categorized as “horror,” after all. In particular, there is one scene containing sexual content, though the narrator isn’t quite aware of what he sees.
The characters are all believable, even those not human. The setting moves effortlessly between the average and the surreal, the narrator grounding the reader at all times. Gaiman uses precise details (as he often does) to create situations in which the reader is very much aware of what is going on or going to happen before the narrator does and the tension is tangible.
In terms of craft, I felt that pacing is where Gaiman really succeeds. It’s a smooth read from beginning to end, and while caught up in the heart of the story, I was shocked by just how quickly it progressed. By the time I had only a few pages left, I began to worry that he might rush the ending, but I had no reason to fear. The story was perfectly wrapped up with a twist that alludes to questions that generally accompany those times where adulthood overlaps childhood in memories and fantasy overlaps reality. Did it really happen the way he remembered? Was it all just a child’s overactive imagination used to explain what he could not understand as a child? Was it all a necessary subconscious metaphor to help him come to terms with the very real horrors he experienced? Literally, the book suggests that the fantasy was the reality, but Gaiman makes sure that those were questions I could not and still can’t answer.
If you are looking to escape your own reality for awhile and aren’t afraid to delve into a world where the bold lines of what is and what isn’t become very blurred, I highly recommend this book. You can buy The Ocean at the End of the Lane on Amazon. And, if you’re not an avid reader, IMDB.com teases at a forthcoming movie (though, as we all know, adaptations are not always as good as their literary counterparts).
I anticipate reading two more of Gaiman’s books this year: Neverwinter and Anansi Boys with accompanying reviews, but in the meantime, check out my review of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. The movie is slated to come out later this year. Be sure to leave me comments about your thoughts on The Ocean at the End of the Lane below; I’m dying to know what I missed and your theories about the questions this book brings up. And don’t forget to subscribe to FullyandWell.com for more reviews!