Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Monday, June 17, 2019

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a short, thoughtful read. There were many deep themes present, such as the disconnect between childhood and adulthood, the corrupting powers of desire and greed, and the idea that there is more in our world than most people see or realize.

Character & Voice:
The book starts with the narrator as a grown man, then leads into a collection of memories narrated by his seven-year-old self. Most of the actual story is from the POV of the young boy, and Gaiman certainly gets across the feeling of helplessness when a child goes up against unyielding adults. He also captures how terrifying it can be when the adults you rely upon become complicit in your misery.
The boy's family are small characters, with his mother hardly mentioned at all and his sister a side-note. His father is the best representation of a normal person being twisted by the influence of magic, as both Mrs. Monkton and the Hempstock women alter his perception and memories.
Of the Hempstock women, Lettie is the one with whom we have the most contact. She agrees to take our narrator with her when she goes to dispel a creature causing problems for mortals, thereby providing it an entrance into the boy's world and kicking off the main events of the story.

Gaiman drops the reader into his world without any explanation. This is understandable since our narrator (for the story portion) is a young boy who really has no idea what is going on, or what is normal and what is not.
Strange things start happening, and the reader is left to piece together possible explanations with the clues provided by the boy's observations. This makes for a rather slow beginning and some confusing moments, but adds to the building mystery and magic of the story.
Even at the end of the book, we never get a full explanation of what happened, or who the Hempstock women are, but we've been painted a picture of possibilities. I was left with the feeling that this story could have taken place fully in the world that I know, thanks to magics that lie just beyond my perception.

Language & Mechanics:
The flashback narration allows strong punch lines like, "'We'll be fine.' That's what she said. But we weren't." Yet, at the same time, that framing eliminates the sense of threat and suspense. We've seen the narrator in the future, we know he survives to become a man. As a result, this book was not what I'd call a page turner, more of an amble, especially at the beginning. It did pick up once Ursula Monkton showed up.
Gaiman's prose flows beautifully, weaving small details and large themes together for terrific storytelling. My reading was never interrupted by mistakes in grammar or mechanics. Once I fell under the spell of the story, I was washed clear to the end.

While this book was labeled fantasy, and there were certainly fantastic elements, it didn't hold many of the features I normally attribute to fantasy writing, and Gaiman's writing style definitely leans toward literary. I'd place this book solidly in the "magical realism" sub-genre.

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