The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman

I have been so hesitant to write this review because of the absolute deluge of reviews I’ve already seen and also because I felt like I still needed to process it. It’s been a few weeks now and I think I can put my reaction into words. It’s funny that this book is so hard to review considering it’s less than 200 pages long.

We begin with our narrator, a forty-something adult returning home for a funeral. Soon he is bombarded with long-forgotten details from his childhood. When he was seven a series of odd events happened to him. An opal miner who was a lodger in his home commits suicide. Then his path crosses with the incredible Hempstock women, particularly the 11-year-old Lettie and around the same time he gains a new nanny, Ursula Monkton.

This fantastical walk down one boy’s memory lane brings up so many thoughts about our own childhood memories. How much is fact, how much is the fiction we tell ourselves? Can we trust our memories or have they become distorted with time and our worldview as a child?

“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.”

Many of my favorite scenes in the book take place in the Hempstock women’s kitchen. It seems our young narrator is always eating. He describes the dishes in detail, mounds of shepherd’s pie, pancakes, etc. It paints such a picture of comfort and warmth and reminds me how food is such a strong trigger for memory.

I’m going to avoid sharing any major plot points, because the apprehension of not knowing what’s next is what makes the book impossible to put down. It is entirely a Gaiman novel in every sense of the word. So expect it to be a bit dark, include some fantasy elements and gorgeous writing. If you already love his work you won’t be disappointed.

BOTTOM LINE: For me it was a beautiful and strange novel. It was short, but it’s been a few weeks since I read it and I keep thinking about different aspects of the story. It raises questions and answers others. Gaiman’s writing brought all these elements together to create something I know I’ll return to again and again.

 “That’s the trouble with living things. Don’t last very long. Kittens one day, old cats the next. And then just memories. And the memories fade and blend and smudge together…”

“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. 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.”

For anyone who is new to Gaiman’s work but would like to try more I’ll refer you to a previous post of mine. I recommend books based on his work, but you can use the list in reverse, picking your next book by him based on work by other authors.

There have already been some beautiful reviews written about the bigger issues in this deceptively simple novel, memory, female portrayal in literature, fantasy elements in coming-of-age, etc.

Here are a couple of my favorites.

A post on the strength of female characters in the book. 


Heather said...

I've been hesitant to review it too. I listened to it about 2 weeks ago and I feel like I'm still digesting it. I've been thinking I need to read it again before I review it. I know I loved it, but I still haven't quite put my finger on exactly what I loved about it. Maybe it's Gaimanness? Anyhoo, great review Melissa!

Brooke said...

It is just such an enchanting read! And I'm still thinking about it as well and know there will be many rereads in my future. I'm glad you enjoyed and a great review, Melissa!

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

Loved every word of this book.

Unknown said...

must say that you are good at reviews! and this one looks like a classic one. add it!

Green benefits

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Heather - Thanks! I really want to get an audio copy for a reread. I'd love to process it in another way sometime soon.

Brooke - It's funny how as soon as you finish some books you know know you'll want to reread them. This is definitely one of those!

Melissa - That's all you really need to say!

Corn Dena - Thank you! Hope you enjoy!

Melanie said...

I think you've got it: the book keeps popping up in your head long after you finish it! Listening to it sounds like a great idea too.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Melanie - I think almost any book would be made better by Neil Gaiman reading it to you.

Nikki Steele @ said...

I think it became ever harder to review when I actually sat down to write it. I guess. Hmm. The book was just so immense and went down so many windy trails that, as a reviewer, I didn't quite know where to start or where to focus. Such a powerful book for such a small one. Perhaps he meant for that as well?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Nikki - I think he did. I recently saw an interview where he encouraged readers to read it slowly. He said it's a slim book, but every word is important and there's a lot to take in.