on 17 August 2013
I have been writing reviews for such a long time now. I almost always try to write a review that is detailed, concise and balanced. As I sit here, I feel extremely lost; stuck for words on how I can best write a review of this very strange, but very brilliant book. This is the very first Neil Gaiman book I've read, but I've heard he is extremely popular and more often than not, his books go on to sell millions. In fact after looking the book up just now, this book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane debuted at the top spot on the New York Times Bestsellers list.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane tells the story of a man who leaves a funeral, back to the place where he grew up. There, he meets a woman he once knew, but can't quite remember how and why? Upon staring and reflecting upon the duck pond in the back garden, he starts to remember his life when he was seven. He starts to recall the events when he and his friend, Lettie Hempstock who lived on the farm at the end of the lane, banished a supernatural entity back whence it came.
Being brought into the world by the suicide of a lodger, the evil takes on the form of a new babysitter - Ursula Monkton, who begins to antagonise and scare our protagonist, yet also `give' everybody else exactly what they have always `wanted'. With the help of Lettie's mother and grandmother, the man's seven year old self and his friend take on the monster, as well as other scary horrors that present themselves.
I found it extremely hard to classify this book. Children's story? Adult? Fantasy? Contemporary? And I still find it hard now. For this is a book that can be read on so many levels. At its core, I think it is a complicated story about life, the unknown and sacrifice. It uses the unknown as a sort of fantasy, so I guess it will suit fantasy fans, as well as readers who dislike epic fantasy. And did I mention nostalgic? It seems to conjure up your own memories as you read.
And to sum up this book, you could very well say that it is clever, very clever indeed. For the innocence and naivety of a child is questioned, and tested too. It takes the surreal and intangible and tries to give it form. We can easily relate to the boy in the story, and we ask the same questions he does. But he has Lettie and her family, and although they may not answer his questions, they certainly know what they are doing. And I loved how wise they came across, for `the oldest can remember the Big Bang.' In fact all of the Hempstocks are brilliantly imagined, and it is Lettie who our protagonist looks up to, and turns to for help. It's a beautiful relationship, one built on safety and understanding.
Gaiman's writing is compelling and full of heart. I found the lengthy sentences Neil Gaimanand the simple nature of it to be very fitting of the seven year old lead. And when I say compelling, I truly mean compelling. yet it is quite hard to say why. I found myself picking up the book and reading further any spare moment I had, whether it be the time it took me walk down the stairs, boil the kettle, even take the bins out. And surely that explains my point exactly. Although, I did find the slight repetition a little frustrating.
One of the themes I loved in this book was how when we become adults, we lose that little bit of magic, that adventure, that understanding that only children seem to latch on to. As Gaiman effectively tell us - adults will follow the path exactly, whereas children will form their own path, look for the secret gap in the fence. And this is what this book is all about, discovering your childhood to seek your own identity.
The story did slow a bit in the middle, but I loved the references to the stories our seven year old lead took solace in, which links to our own connection with the story. I also felt the rather `adult' bits of the story were a little odd - the unnerving sex scene, although I understood the reasoning behind this, even though it may not of been made clear - for how can a seven year old really understand?
This book is magical, it has multiple messages throughout and will undoubtedly pull on your heartstrings, because I have to admit, as I read the last chapter and epilogue, I felt myself utterly at mercy to the story. It's a little story, but full of character. I loved the abstract approach at exploring the dark nature of things, and if you want to read a story that is original, different and utterly complex in such an understated way, then throw caution to the wind and have a stab at this. I promise you, you won't regret it. And you'll be rushing to give a second read through, to pick up on all of the charming nuances.
Neil Gaiman has written a marvellous book here, poised beautifully between literary fiction, fantasy and horror, and adult (or child) fairy story
The central character, a man in middle age, with the disappointments of adult life upon him, turns down memory lane, when the death of a parent and the funeral gathering will unite him with the years passed. A failed marriage, work, creativity and the dreams of youth not having quite turned out in the way the younger man or boy might have wished he physically revisits where he once lived, as a seven year old boy, and recounts and remembers what the adult man has forgotten.
What makes this different from other 'revisit childhood' books is that the revisited land is large with powerful myths, and presided over by 3 potent female figures who live by 'the ocean at the end of the lane' The 3 powerful women a grandmother, a mother and an 11 year old (crone, mother, maiden)are constantly reminding this reader of other pagan and indeed religious threes - a matriachy of power and goodness to rival patriarchal religion, - including a willing sacrifice - the three Fates of Greek mythology, even as they appear to be initially easily dismissed perhaps as the three witches.
Gaiman narrates a brilliant story - more than a battle between good and ill (is it really good to have all desires met - even the desire to be happy?) but under the tight and page turning narrative drive, the fine writing, the believable characters and relationships, philosophical and psychological insights are placed for the reader to chew on.
Its certainly a book which might be enjoyed by a child, even read to a child, especially as the central character is a child, but it reaches, I think, to the wisdom within a child, and to the child within an adult:
As Gaiman has his central character say:
I liked myths. They weren't adult stories and they weren't children's stories. They were better than that. They just were.
I also liked the absolute truth (so it seems to me) of this:
Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside. 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. Not one, in the whole wide world.
And, if you don't like that sort of psychology, what about the plunges into transcendental experience - perhaps the experience much fine poetry and music takes us towards:
In those dreams I spoke that language too, the first language, and i had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real,, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. it is the most basic building block of everything.
As adults, we have (in the main) forgotten the power of words, of the naming of things, of how potent the dominion of naming and language must have been to our species. And why (some of us) venerate poets, who give us back that place
It appears from the reviews that this book's a little like Marmite - you'll either like it, or you just won't click with it.
If you like a quirky, bizarre story then you've come to the right place. You know those sort of stories that immerse you in a surreal fantasy world that could just possibly exist alongside an everyday real one? Whilst people's lives intertwine with it, oblivious to its existence? Then yes, this is DEFINATELY for you.
It's dreamlike and slightly nuts in places, but altogether highly original. Yet it's told in a clever, matter-of-fact way that it actually makes it strangely plausible. It's a fantasy-fairylike-tale with a whopping, great punch throughout.
I must mention that the intimidation of the young boy by a truly vile villain, together with the 'angry birds' scene later in the book are captured in a perfectly sinister manner, painting quite a graphic image in your mind.
And I'll admit, I got myself lost a couple of times with the changing story between the past (the young boy) and the present (the boy grown up), particularly toward the end, but a quick re-read of the chapter put me straight. That was my fault entirely and not the book - therefore, I would recommend giving it your 100% attention to fully appreciate it, it would be a crime not to.
This is the first book I've read by Neil Gaiman and it's left me wanting to read more. 4.5 stars out of 5.
on 21 November 2013
A middle-aged man is brought back to events during his childhood after he leaves a funeral and drives to his childhood home. The protagonist remembers the house at the end of his lane which belonged to the Hempstock family, consisting of Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother.
Firstly, this book was advertised as Gaiman's first adult novel however it did not read that way. It felt very much like it was more aimed at young adults than adults. Secondly, the book (my edition, anyway) is only 243 pages long but Gaiman says in the Acknowledgements at the back of the book that the story began as a short story.
However there are plenty of good points to this book. I found the characters to be well written and believable, especially the antagonist, Ursula Monkton. The character of Ursula really helped, in my opinion, to make the story interesting as she is a character that most children can relate to in their lives even before everything about her is revealed to the reader.
The imagery that Gaiman creates when the plot really takes off is stunning and really helps the reader to immerse themselves in the story. For this reason, I could read this novel in only a few sittings as I am quite a slow reader.
I can't really say anything else about this novel without giving anything away but I recommend that, if you like Gaiman's writing, you read The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
on 28 December 2014
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short, sweet fable of lost innocence, told with Neil Gaiman's characteristic flair for weaving the wondrous into the mundane. Our unnamed protagonist revisits his childhood home in what amounts to a prologue; before relating the tale of his seven year-old self's brush with otherworldly evil.
In its content, Ocean is a fairy tale; a simple narrative about monsters and fairy godmothers, the Brothers Grimm abroad in 1970's England. In its form, however, Ocean is delightfully complex.This is a richly-textured exploration of the wonder and fear which suffuses our childhood experiences, and the painful realisation that our parents are but frail humans. As in Gaiman's previous works, his broad-brush fantasies prove, on closer inspection, to be complex and nuanced. His is a world where, yes, good must fight evil, and ultimately triumph; but the monsters are alien rather than malign; his characters conflicted, and for every triumph a price must be paid. Indeed, in Ocean's stunning epilogue, the true cost of the protagonist's brush with the Hempstocks and the hunger birds is laid painfully bare; a poignant twist to cap a satisfying tale.
At just over 140 pages, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is perhaps a little too short and narrow in its scope to be a low fantasy classic. It punches above its weight, however, and will resonate with young adult and adult readers alike. It is perhaps too dark, with some grotesque as well as sexual imagery, to be suitable for children. For readers new to Gaiman's works, Ocean is a delightful aperitif; readers who enjoy it would do well to tackle Stardust and American Gods thereafter. Established fans may find it familiar, but enchanting nevertheless. And when a writer's canon is of as high as caliber as Gaiman's, who could complain about more of the same?
on 5 May 2014
This is Neil Gaiman we're talking about, so The Ocean at the End of the Lane is well-written, with his characteristic lyrical prose and very original imagery. He also weaves in folklore, as he often does, but this time he includes much less well-known characters such as the gaelic Scathach (and I see this was written on Skye - clearly his inspiration in this case!) as well as mother/maiden/crone stuff.
It is, however, a very simple, short tale, despite the weaving at the front and back ends of half-remembered memory. There are no side plots or secondary characters with interesting tales. It's a bit like a long short story; the novel itself is just 236pp long, with 18pp of commentary and acknowledgements, and 5pp of newspaper/magazine reviews of the novel.
In many ways, it seems like a children's book, but it is probably not suitable for younger children - certainly sensitive or more conservative types - because of one short graphic sexual reference, a suicide (albeit it's a fairly incidental character you have not bonded with), and one's views on what happens near the end (to spell out more would be a spoiler).
Unfortunately when you reach for a novel that has been so heavily reviewed in the media (and they're listed in the book and on this page, so the publisher intends us to take them into account), you have horribly high expectations and it's hard not to expect what the reviews have told you to expect - and if you buy from Amazon, those reviews are critical to making the purchase. In this case, the media reviews often say or imply that the novel has profound views on the nature of childhood and memory. Now, I'm not saying that the book doesn't touch on these issues, but it's no more profound than a number of books in the fantasy genre that don't benefit from such universal reviews.
So, all in all: it's a pretty decent, well-written, short read (I read it in a few hours) and probably great for, say, a train ride or plane trip. But it's not ground-breaking fantasy, and it's awfully short.
on 5 August 2013
I couldn't put it down. It's a cliché but it is none-the-less true. I finished "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" in just over a day because of Gaiman's fluid, easy style and because it really is quite short.
Having read most of Mr Gaiman's other work I thought I knew what to expect from this and to a large extent I got what I was expecting. I was reminded most of "The Graveyard Book" although this had a more adult theme and more disturbing events and characters. Some of the characters seemed to have jumped straight from the pages of "Sandman" and I appreciated that having been a big fan of the author's work on that fine comic-book. There were unexpected elements in this story too, though. More than ever before, I felt as though I was peeking into the author's own life. Clearly, this is a work of fiction but Mr Gaiman has gone on record to say that many aspects of the story such as setting and certain characters were based very closely on his own memories. It seemed like a brief glimpse into the childhood of Neil Gaiman and that was fascinating, to say the least.
I would recommend this book to readers, young adult to older adult, who enjoy fantasy seeping into their reality or a little magic mixed with their memories.
on 24 December 2013
I love Neil Gaimen. So I expected no less than to love this book but any long term fan knows an author can have a dud.
This is not that book.
This is where Gaimen thrives- lulls you into a feeling of an average story of adults reminiscing about childhoods and then, easy as you like, it becomes a fantastical tale of a boy and a girl (who's been 11 for a long time) and their attempts to save his family from a being that crossed over from the place with an orange sky to Our World, where it doesn't belong.
I won't say anymore for fear of ruining the suspense and skill of Gaimen pulling you into this brilliantly-crafted story.
Highly recommend (if you can't tell).
on 5 January 2015
This is the first Neil Gaiman book I have read and I was looking forward to it immensely. Glancing through other reviews I could see that others felt it isn’t his best book. Though plenty didn’t agree. However, having nothing to compare it to I felt I was lucky as I couldn’t be disappointed. But I was. A little. At first.
It was the title that drew me to this book. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Possibly sparked by something I had misheard on the radio, my imagination conjured up magical images. The lane was a short lane leading from a suburban street of unremarkable, respectable houses. And the ocean was a real ocean. Vast. Unexpected. Just a few steps from this rather boring road. So eager had I been to start the book that I missed the page just before the Prologue. So my imagined faery scene remained intact.
I read the first few pages with happy anticipation. I somehow glossed over the fact that the setting was rural, not suburban. I think I too became seven again. “I walked into the farmyard. I went past the chicken coop, past the old barn and along the edge of the field …’ I too picked a handful of green nuts and put them in my pocket. Then I turned the corner and found the pond.
Not an ocean. Not vast. Not unexpected. Just a pond in a farmyard. Not magical at all. A pond that a small girl had called an ocean. At that stage I felt that this was going to be a different book from the one I had expected. That was when I felt the twinge of disappointment. Nevertheless, I was already appreciating the quality of the writing. Neil Gaiman’s ability to create a scene in just a few words. “I wore a black suit and a white shirt, a black tie and black shoes, all polished and shiny … I was wearing the right clothes for a hard day.” So I read on.
Then, “Nobody came to my seventh birthday party.” I was hooked. It’s fair to say that I gobbled this book up. I raced through it. I am now reading books with a pencil and notebook on the bed beside me, but I hadn’t started to do that at that point. So I am having to go back to it to remind myself of the details. And there’s so much detail. So many images. The birthday cake that has a book drawn on it and tells so much about this small boy. The tiny little yellow washbasin in the bedroom “at the top of the stairs”. The white mini stuck on the verge, the green toothbrush with toilet paper wrapped round the top.
Image piles on image. Weird images, scary images. The nightmare that isn’t. The terrifying, shudderingly sinister worm – this is perhaps the thing that scared me most but I can’t say more without spoiling it. The everyday world where nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted, not even your parents. I was no longer disappointed. I was and am enthralled. Nevertheless, I’m finding it hard to review this book. I don’t want to stick labels on it. There’s a real world. That pleases me. There’s a fantastical, otherworldly world of monsters and orange skies and a sinister, shape shifting babysitter. That delights me. (Ursula Monkton. What a splendid perfect name, both normal and menacing).
At least one reviewer has said that this book is childhood. It is. It’s that strange and wonderful world that only a child can imagine. A child or someone who is still a child in spirit. Someone who in some part of them has not really ever grown up. Who can journey back to that enchanted place where there’s a different moon on the other side of the house, where the past can be snipped away with a pair of scissors, where people live in the present and the past simultaneously. Where there are no limits to dreams and imaginings. Where children can ‘creep beneath the rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.” And in the spaces between the fences lies a world of horror where a dead man walks “in a frilly white shirt and a black bow tie”, where the hunger birds have sharp beaks and faceless flapping things loom menacingly.
As I write I’m increasingly conscious of the fact that no review of mine can do justice to this bewitching, charming, spellbinding story. You just have to read it. “I love my ocean,” says Lettie Hemstock. And I love it too.
on 10 July 2013
I love Neil Gaimans works and have read most of them - both adult and children's books. However, I was very disappointed with this book. I felt that he was trying to be too clever at the expense of the story, and the author's notes at the end - where he had sent it round various friends and colleagues to be commented on - felt to be self congratulatory rather than an exercise in honest criticism.
It was beautifully written, and some of the scenes certainly stick in my mind, but it was not wonderful like his other books. Yes the reflections on childhood and the links to the adults we become are interesting - but not that interesting. The really interesting Hempstocks didn't get much of a look in. The main character of the boy wasn't that engaging.
It was an OK book - which in itself is rather a damming review for a Gaiman book as they are usually astounding, or stunning, or thought provoking, or wonderful.