Customer Review

39 of 47 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Competent but underwhelming tale by a usually fantastic author, 8 July 2013
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This review is from: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Hardcover)
As a big Neil Gaiman fan, it pains my to say this, but if I were to sum this book up in one word, it would be "underwhelming." Or possibly "underdeveloped."

Don't get me wrong, it's by no means awful, and there are a few very good things about it. It's just that it's not a patch on most of the rest of his work and if it was my first exposure to this usually brilliant author, I don't think I'd be in a particular rush to try another of his books. It's definitely more reminiscent of the fairly homely Coraline than the epic American Gods or Sandman series.

First, the good. The prose is inevitably lovely. Gaiman surely has one of the best styles of anyone writing in genre fiction. The sense of creepiness, even terror, is wonderfully created. Parts of the book I found as psychologically terrifying as the most full-blown horror novel. Without giving too much away, there's a section where the narrator is trying to leave his house to get help and is constantly foiled which is just a masterclass in ratcheting up the tension.

To some degree, he also creates a good sense of time and place (rural Britain in the seventies) but I thought this could have been developed further. I got the impression that the story could have taken place anywhere and would have enjoyed a bit more linking to local myths and landmarks, in the way you get with Alan Garner or Susan Cooper, or to seventies issues, like in The Rotters' Club or Black Swan Green.

The book apparently started life as a short story and it really shows. Partly, this is a simple length issue. It can't have been more than about 60 000 words and while sometimes short novels can work (the Great Gatsby is this sort of length and an undisputed classic) in this instance I felt it was over before I'd really had time to bond with the characters.

One of Gaiman's greatest strengths is his ability to weave myths and folklore into his stories, but here, the mythos felt oddly superficial. I didn't quite get what the Hempstocks were meant to be (other than yet another example of the Mother/Maiden/Crone concept) or why, if they were as powerful as they seemed, they were living quietly on a Sussex farm. I'd loved to have had more of their backstory and perhaps a bit of their point of view. Having come up with what appeared to be fascinating and original characters, they are horribly underused, and I felt the same to a lesser extent about the two supernatural enemies.

In conclusion, this is definitely worth a read, but if you're a Gaiman fan, maybe adjust your expectations downwards a little and if you've never read him before, start with another book or you might wonder what all the fuss is about. It's an entertaining, well-written and scary read but it's lacking the substance that would elevate it above that. If nothing else, I'd wait for the paperback to come out and the price to drop as it's far too short to justify the current price-tag.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 29 Jul 2013 18:26:26 BDT
Teleute says:
Thank you for articulating exacting what I'm feeling reading this. I'd been hoping for more American Gods, less Coraline. The prose is beautiful, but the voice just isn't working for me on any real emotional level. I'd also noticed the returned of the trinity - think I preferred it's incarnation in the Sandman. Perhaps I was expecting too much :(

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Dec 2013 01:14:36 GMT
S. Jordaan says:
Yes, exactly my sentiments. I have loved every book he has ever written. I pre ordered this one. However I was disappointed not because it wasn't beautifully written but because I didn't feel a connection with the characters. So much so that it took me a while to get into Neverwhere which I hadn't read before. I absolutely loved Neverwhere. It is definitely one of my top 5 books.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Jun 2014 12:25:11 BDT
michelle says:
I felt the same way - this is the first book I've read by this author and its almost put me off him. It's poorly written, there is no connection with the characters, nor did I feel any empathy for them There is no character development - It was all a bit of a mess, but could make a good horror film . I'm deeply disappointed by this book

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jun 2014 23:05:11 BDT
Georgiana89 says:
Michelle, gon't let it put you off completely, I definitely feel it's one of his weaker offerings. Try American Gods or possibly Neverwhere before giving up on Gaiman. Or Good Omens, though that's written by Terry Pratchett too, and I'm never sure how much each of them wrote.
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