Sunday, July 6, 2014

9 Heart Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman

Page Count: 178

Release Date: June 3rd 2014 (paperback release)
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Harper Collins and TLC!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.
"Do you remember the way? You can get to it around the side of the house. Just follow the path."
If you'd asked me an hour before, I would have said no, I did not remember the way. I do not even think I would have remembered Lettie Hempstock's name. But standing in that hallway, it was all coming back to me. Memories were waiting at the edges of things, beckoning to me. Had you told me that I was seven again, I might have half-believed you, for a moment.

Neil Gaiman is one of those modern authors I automatically categorize as classic. I've loved his previous novels and all his little projects in between, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane solidifies his position as one of my all-time favorite writers.

Through a drowsy, overwhelming narrative, we follow the sudden, startling recollection of one man's past—one that is all of magical, terrible, and sobering. While visiting the little English country lane of his childhood, our unnamed protagonist reunites with a familiar face who prompts him to think of an old friend he hasn't thought about in years. Upon remembering one thing, he remembers everything.

Vividly Proust-like and told in calm, focused prose, this novel submerges readers into the sweet, wise, sometimes wondrous, and sometimes frightening mementos of a forgotten childhood, while expertly capturing the one-track mind of a seven-year-old boy. His memories immerse us into a world that is all of strange, fantastical, but still utterly believable—as well as introduce us to an intriguing character, Lettie Hempstock, who teaches us the most valuable lesson about being a friend.

The fantasy setting of the child's experiences is out of this world—literally. I don't know how Gaiman comes up with the most bizarre concepts and the most sinister of villains while still managing to sound so real, but he does it beautifully. The story definitely has dark undertones, but it is masked by the naïve tranquility of an ignorantly blissful child. Not only is this aspect of magical realism so smoothly incorporated, but the injustices and powerlessness of childhood are also exquisitely portrayed. Gaiman reminds us of what it is like to be young again—and through this reliving, we are forced to consider the underestimated wisdom of children, and the overlooked foolishness of adults.

Stylistically, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is quite easy and straightforward; at less than 200 pages, it is a slim volume—but it has a huge impact. In the veins of Marcel Proust and Georges Perec, Neil Gaiman acknowledges the sheer power or memory, imagination, and wonder, while providing a haunting reflection of what it means to remember, and what it means to forget.

Pros


Stunningly perceptive // Light but meaningful writing style // Poetic // Sinister and dark at times, yet overall enlivening // Fantastical while still startlingly realistic // Poignant observations on memory, storytelling, and youth // If you're a Neil Gaiman fan already, this may become your newest favorite of his // Simply put: a good story

Cons


Slow-moving at times

Love

There was toast, too, cooked beneath the grill as my father cooked it, with homemade blackberry jam. There was the best cup of tea I have ever drunk. By the fireplace, the kitten lapped at a saucer of creamy milk, and purred so loudly I could hear it across the room.
I wished I could purr too. I would have purred then. 

Verdict


Imaginative, chilling, and mournful to a past life, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a powerful novel about the importance of stories, seen through the impressionable, vulnerable eyes of a nameless child. The book juxtaposes supernatural occurrences in a contemporary setting to create the ultimate urban fantasy world, with splashes of nostalgia added in between that really disorient the plot's flow. Told in Neil Gaiman's trademark voice—so dark, but so eloquent—that made Stardust a huge hit, this #1 New York Times Bestseller is completely deserving of its widespread praise. I loved this book; it is all of gloomy, heartbreaking, and magical; in the end, it is completely hope-filled Americanflag

9 hearts: Loved it! This book has a spot on my favorites shelf (x)