Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel, The
"You don't pass or fail at being a person, dear."
Those words, on page 175 left me a sobbing mess this evening. The right words at the right time. I just really needed to hear that I'm not failing at life despite all other evidence. Thank you Mr Gaiman.
So, how am I suppose to review this book? The small, beautiful book that I absolutely have to buy a copy of to refer to when needed? Do I quote the many quotes that struck me-marked by torn Post-It notes to copy down before returning the book to the library?
This book isn't a full blown adult novel like American Gods. It's closer to The Graveyard Book in size and scope. This one is deeper-in essence it looks like a pond but it's really an ocean.
I feel blessed to have read this. I am not going to gush and I'm not going to implore you to pick this up. It simply is the right book at the right time for me. And I'm going to just bask in the glow for a bit.
Full review as originally posted HERE on The Book Addict's Guide 12/28/16: Apparently the end of 2016 was filled with Neil Gaiman after listening to two full-length novels and one extra, all on audio. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump and was looking for something comforting and that I knew would be pleasant to listen to and it doesn’t get much better than Neil Gaiman’s stories and his own narration.
I’m really glad that I waited to read/listen to THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE and didn’t pick it up right away. Magical realism is a genre that’s been growing on me over the years and I’ve reached a point where I’ve read a few books within the genre of which I’ve grown quite fond. Usually when I experience a genre clash, it’s all about reading the right books and my latest magical realism reads have just really been clicking. I fear if I had read THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE too soon, the magical experience of everything may have been lost on me and I might not have connected well and I’m so glad that I was really able to appreciate this book!
Alyssa, my friend and master of Gaiman novels, described this one to me as a children’s story for adults, being that the narrator is an adult who is telling the story but it’s about a series of events that happened to him as a child, all around when he was about seven years old, and I think that’s a great way to describe this novel. THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE felt very much like an adult-oriented book and yet it had the younger, children’s mentality due to its time frame and focus. Despite how well I think Neil Gaiman writes for any age, I feel like I tend not to wholly connect to a book that mixes or crosses ages like that. I don’t often like when adult books dip down into a childlike focus and the mix of mentalities can be a bit too much for me sometimes, and that seems to be why I didn’t totally 100% love this story.
I really did enjoy the magic that occurred throughout the book, though! I love magical realism because it doesn’t have to play into stereotypical creatures or situations that are so often found in paranormal or urban fantasy genres and yet it still connects with real life. That slight blur between the narrator’s home life and the magic of the Hempstock family was just delightful and I love the feeling of it being right on the surface. The little beasties and dangerous magical things are that much more frightening in THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE as well because the characters don’t know or understand the rules of their world and often time can’t predict how to control, discourage, or manage them. They’re that much harder to get rid of as well when there’s a limited amount of help and not an entirely fantastical community to offer support.
THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE was a quick read and I loved the overall atmosphere and feel. I don’t like stories that dip into the childhood years as much because it’s just not something I connect with as much as I do young adult or adult novels but I still enjoyed it from start to finish. Neil Gaiman always creates the most wonderful atmospheres that have readers completely believing in these worlds and I loved being totally sucked into the story.
I borrowed this audiobook from Hoopla (bless you, Hoopla) because I was having an audiobook slump and needed a narrator I could trust who was also a male voice. I just wasn’t in the mood for a female voice after striking out a few times. I love when authors narrate their own books because I just feel you really get things EXACTLY the way they intended, especially parts that were songs (and actually sung)! Neil Gaiman has a wonderful narrating voice as well and his audiobooks are just so pleasant to listen to.
1) Stephen King
2) JK Rowling
3) Neil Gaiman
So when I heard that Neil Gaiman had a new book coming out, I was really excited. Really, REALLY excited, to then learn that this was to be a new book for adults. Don't get me wrong, I like his YA books, as I've liked everything that I've read of his. But I love his books for adults.
American Gods is one of the absolute best books I've ever read. It's layered, compelling, intricate, and just plain good. I recently started reading it again, but when I realized that I couldn't really devote the time to it that I wanted, I put it aside. I'll pick it up again one day when I can dedicate my full and devoted attention to it. It deserves it.
So, that being said, I pre-ordered the signed hardcover edition of this book. I don't regret that decision, though I will admit that I am a little disappointed in the story itself. I think that this is a case of unmet expectations, though. Perhaps if "Ocean..." hadn't been advertised as a book for adults, I wouldn't feel this way.
I was expecting something along the lines of a "Neverwhere" type story, (while hoping for American Gods quality) but what I got reminded me very strongly of "Coraline". I enjoyed "Coraline", and I enjoyed this, but I wouldn't call it an 'adult book'. It's told, almost entirely, from the perspective of a 7-year-old little boy. And while I have read adult books that have been told from the perspective of young children, this just didn't have the same feel. The adultness of it was missing for me. That's a very intangible thing, and will be dependent on each reader to define for themselves. I don't know if I can even describe it myself... I just know that I would have no problem at all recommending this book to children of the narrator's age. There's nothing in it that they would find too hard to understand, except for perhaps the single vague and distant sex scene that even the narrator doesn't understand... and is not meant to. As adults, we know what our narrator is describing, but this does not transform this story from a children's/YA story into an adult one. Nor does couching it between first and last "adult perspective" chapters. At least not to me. It just feels like a story told by and aimed at children.
I also just didn't get a very dire sense of danger from this story. Since the story is told in flashback, you know that the main character made it through any mortal danger he may have faced. Likewise, I never felt that Lettie was in any real danger either, since, apparently, she's immortal - or as close to it as possible. The Hunger Birds definitely evoked more of a response from me than Ursula Monkton did... I just couldn't be concerned about her at all. She reminded me quite a lot of the Other Mother from Coraline... but in Coraline there was a sense of tension because it's real-time, so nothing guarantees safety, and aside from the cat, Coraline is on her own. She has help, yes, but it's not the same. Here our main character is rather pathetic, aside from his one act of naive nobility... the exact opposite of interesting, intelligent, and courageous Coraline.
That's not to say that this wasn't a good book. It was. I did enjoy reading it, and I liked the Hempstocks old world Fae feel. There was also quite a lot of quotable goodness in this little story, and the writing was, while simple, quite beautiful. I liked that the main character remained nameless here. Usually I don't really care for that, as it makes it harder for me to identify with a character, but somehow with Neil's stories, it just works.
Anyway, overall, I liked this story, but just liked it. I wanted to love it, but it just didn't quite live up to my expectations. I would still definitely recommend it though, as I would with any of Neil's work.
"I'm going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don't look like grow-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. The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups".
I'm turning 35 this year. I also teach HS, so I'm quite adept at putting on my adult mask for my teenagers. Yet, often, when I get a moment to reallythink, I'm constantly surprised that I am, indeed, 34. It's not that things haven't changed: for instance, you'll find me in bed cozying up with a book on Thursday nights at 10pm, not primping to go out. It's that, at my students' age, I remember thinking 35 was old. But, I don't feel at all like what I expected 35 to feel like, something like a true certainty I assumed came with "adulthood."
And the more I think about it the more I realize, I will never feel that way. I will be 80 year old (one can hope), sitting in my rocking chair, and the only thing that will be different is how people relate to me. Because, there is no such thing as the fabled "togetherness" of "adulthood".
Ocean at the End of the Lane is profoundly insightful, and magnificently subtle. One may read it easily while remaining entirely oblivious to the nuance of our 7 year old narrator's words - for who truly listens to children? But if one approaches the work like their own personal "Ocean"- and allows oneself to be submerged completely in the memory of childhood, one begins to realize the meanings extend infinitely beyond the page and offer truly, brilliantly penetrating observations about the nature of time, memory, and self-hood.
My favorite example of this is the theme of wonder at the nature of reality - and the idea that it's not children who have a limited view due to lack of prior experience/knowledge, but that it's adults who have learned to see the world through a haze of conventions, habits, mindlessness, routine. As children (those of us who had the privilege of living in safety), we imagined an enchanted world brimming with possibility: as adults (those of us who aren't meditative gurus), we are often tired, dogged by "responsibilities", weighed by obligations and rules and patterns of thoughts, to the extent that we've forgotten how to penetrate the seeming banality of things. We've automated so much of what we've learned, that we rarely take the time to truly look.
So in the end, it's not adults who are "certain" of the world - it's children (but of course as children we don't know this). I for one never felt more clear about myself as a person than when I was about 7 or 8, the age of our protagonist (which is another reason perhaps why I felt I was reading a metaphorical biography of myself). It was also around that time when events beyond my control first forced me to face the meaning of pain (for our protagonist, it was the arrival of an unpleasant, destructive ... force, let's call it; for me, it was my father's defection to the US and subsequent tribulations of being left behind in Ceausescu's Romania). And of course, we learned to cope the same way: BOOKS! Imagination! Fantasy! An escape? Perhaps, in some ways, but also, a productive reimagination of reality.
"How can you be happy in this world? You have a hole in your heart. You have a gateway inside you to lands beyond the world you know. There can never be a time when you forget them, when you are not, in your heart, questing for something you cannot properly imagine..."
To this day I continue to seek that which may reenchant my perspective, may help me see beyond the layer of grime accumulated over the past 20 or so years of "adulthood", and I credit Gaiman's work for dusting off the largest cobwebs. TEN STARS!