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The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman Nate Send a noteboard - 09/07/2013 05:22:35 PM

(This is a spoiler-free review of Neil Gaiman's new novel, released on June 18; only the most basic elements of the plot's setup are revealed.)

Once upon a time, when the world and I were younger, I read an entire novel in one day for the first time. I have never been a fast reader; I like to take my time with a story. So the fact that I devoured Neil Gaiman’s Stardust in one waking period was a big deal to me. For years it was the only novel in that category for me.

Does that mean that Stardust is my favourite Gaiman novel? No, not necessarily. I’ve always had a hard time choosing my favourite Gaiman, outside of his brilliant Sandman comic. Stardust ranks highly, but so does The Graveyard Book, and so does Coraline, and so do Neverwhere and American Gods.

But now that I’ve finished reading my second ever done-in-one-day novel, I can say that I have a favourite Neil Gaiman book — The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

This is a big deal to me, because Gaiman is the author I most admire in all the world. His books are magic. They are deceptively simple stories full of wonder and darkness. And with his latest work, he has crafted a story that speaks to me more than any of his others.

I will admit to surprise at this. I did not expect it. Gaiman hadn’t written a novel “for adults” since Anansi Boys, which is my least favourite of his longer stories. I knew going in that The Ocean at the End of the Lane was about childhood, but the only other thing I knew was that the book is only 178 pages long, even though it sells for a regular hardcover price. I almost wanted not to buy it, to wait for a less expensive version, but if there’s any author who has earned my money it’s Neil Gaiman, so I took the plunge.

It was a fantastic decision.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story about a grown man who returns to his childhood home and remembers something he didn’t think he would ever forget. He remembers the story of when a man killed himself near the farm at the end of the lane. That death touched off a series of events that unleashed a dark force that invaded his life and his family in increasingly horrific ways, and all of it revolves around three strange women who live where the lane ends — little Lettie Hempstock, who is wise beyond her years and who believes that the pond behind her home is an ocean; Mrs. Hempstock, who remembers when the moon was born; and old Mrs. Hempstock, who can see electrons, manipulate time, and who might have been alive when the universe began.

I won’t say any more about the plot, except that it fits a remarkable number of occurrences into its 178 pages. The prose is Gaiman at his efficient best, always saying more than it seems to, never saying more than it has to. The characters shine, ranging from the familiar to the brave, from the wise to the frightening.

In a lot of ways, the story feels partially autobiographic. A boy grows up in rural England, better in love with books than with people. The story is drenched in nostalgia without turning a blind eye to the less pleasant aspects of growing up mostly alone. As a grown man, the main character is an artist (it’s never specified what sort, but one can comfortably guess) who is forever seeking after the impossible, after ways to capture magic, after methods of explaining the unseen forces a part of him can feel in the world, full of ideas that keep him awake at night, never quite able to catch them completely. The story that’s told of his childhood offers one explanation for why he feels this way.

As someone who spent a good part of his childhood alone and in love with books; as someone who has suffered the disappointments of adulthood while struggling to maintain a sense of wonder; as someone who feels compelled to tell stories, whether he gets them exactly right or not — it may be that I’m the perfect audience for this book. But if you’ve ever experienced loss or loneliness, if you’ve ever thought that the world might be more than what we can measure, and if you’ve ever been a little afraid of the dark, The Ocean at the End of the Lane might have something just for you. It’s a story the moon would enjoy.

My only criticism is that the climax is a small bit awkward. But this is an issue I’ve had with all of Gaiman’s adult novels, and honestly it works well enough, and is better, I felt, than the climaxes of American Gods and Anansi Boys. And there’s always a denouement after the climax, which is something Gaiman consistently nails, and does so here once again.

In summary, if you’ve enjoyed any of Neil Gaiman’s other works and would like a bit of genuine magic in your life, The Ocean at the End of the Lane has you covered.

Warder to starry_nite

Chapterfish — Nate's Writing Blog
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The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman - 09/07/2013 05:22:35 PM 8023 Views
I reviewed it as well (plus I'm attending tonight's book signing in Nashville) - 10/07/2013 07:43:24 PM 1629 Views
Said signing report - 11/07/2013 11:02:26 AM 1621 Views
I've always wondered about readings. - 11/07/2013 03:45:22 PM 1573 Views
It may have just been me but I felt there was two stories... - 25/07/2013 03:35:53 AM 1335 Views
I just finished it and... - 14/09/2013 02:54:46 PM 1378 Views

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