Monday, 23 September 2013
Book review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Memory, myth, fairytales and a child's imagination come together in Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
A sweeping novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is both a children's book and an adult's tale.
A middle-aged man returns to the place he grew up for a family funeral. In between the service and the wake, he finds himself back at a pond on a neighbour's farm, and while there he remembers the war that raged when he was seven, and how he was saved by the Hempstocks - Old Mrs Hempstock, Ginnie Hempstock, and 11-year-old Lettie Hempstock.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a novel of myths and mysteries, and I found myself puzzled and confused at times. I'm still not sure I understood quite what happened, and whether what happened was real or not, but in this way I'm like the narrator, a man who remembers and then forgets, who doubts his memory, and whose recollections of that incident when he was seven differs from those of other people involved.
The confusion didn't mean I didn't enjoy the novel though. I found it poetic and scary, at the same time, and got caught up in the fable and fairytale elements of the book. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is simultaneously a novel about the things we as children were afraid would happen if we misbehaved (letting go of someone's hand when they were keeping us safe), and a novel that is firmly rooted in a fantasy world.
Gaiman has a real way with words, using them to create images that burn themselves in your mind. At times, I was reminded of his earlier novel, Coraline. That book terrified me, and I found The Ocean at the End of the Lane employed a similar method when trying to scare the reader. Rather than the fantastical bad guys being the ones who scared me most, it was the narrator's father who won the dubious honour of being the most terrifying character in the book.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a book you shouldn't think too hard about, or try to dissect or understand, or find a moral in. It's purely a story, one that confuses and scares and delights, and that's where its beauty lies.
How I got this book: From the library