Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Review

I've been super behind on writing. We moved out of our NYC apartment on June 15th and relocated to a beautiful big apartment in Philly, so it took a while to get settled. And I took a little break from novels to read a bunch of graphic novels but I finally got back to Neil Gaiman's newest book. My husband has been harassing me to write this review since he's also a huge Gaiman fan and gave me orders to write a non-spoilery review.

So here goes... the unnamed narrator of The Ocean at the End of the Lane is at his father's funeral, feeling a bit lost and he ends up driving to his old house, and then part it to the rambling old farmhouse at the end of the lane to visit a family that he once knew. He asks an old woman there if he can sit out by the pond in the back, the pond that his old friend Lettie Hempstock once claimed was the ocean. She agrees and he goes to sit, only to be flooded with memories of an incident that took place when he was seven.

He lived with his sister and parents who, when faced with financial difficulties, took in boarders. One of these, an opal miner from South Africa, ended up stealing the family car and killing himself in it. This death led the narrator to spend some time at the Hempstock farm where he met Lettie, who was 11, her mother, Ginny and grandmother, known only as Old Mrs. Hempstock. The Hempstocks are definitely magical somehow, although their role in the world is never fully defined. They determine that the death and other strange occurrences are due to an evil presence lurking somewhere on the Hempstock property (sort of). Lettie takes the boy with her to bind the presence, but in doing so, there is a moment where the boy's guard is down and that opens him up to be a door between worlds, and a means for the creature to access his life and the lives of those around him.

Gaiman is adept at creating creep characters and disturbing scenes. The children's new governess, Ursula, certainly seems like the other mother in Coraline. She has the same sort of malevolence that children can see, but adults ignore. The presence of the governess kicks off the real adventure. How can the boy seek help from the Hempstocks and how can they save him from his predicament? I'm not going into tons of detail here as per my husband's request, but the main theme of the novel is sacrifice. Is a great sacrifice worth it?

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short little book, which is a bit disappointing given how infrequently Gaiman publishes anything these days. However, it is filled with lovely (and sometimes disturbing) imagery. The story isn't really a new one but despite its familiarity, it still feels interesting and unique. The Hempstocks are mysterious figures that like many Gaiman creations are just fleshed out enough to make them interesting but not so fully explained to make them fully understood, if that makes sense.

The end was sad and sweet and made me want to pick up one of his other novels again. Gaiman is really one of our most gifted writers and I definitely wish he wrote and published more often.

NY Times Review
The Guardian Review

Buy it at amazon or Barnes and Noble

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