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The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 18, 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, June 2013: Neil Gaiman's intent was simple: to write a short story. What he ended up with instead was The Ocean at the of the Lane--his first adult novel since Anansi Boys came out in 2005, and a narrative so thoughtful and thrilling that it's as difficult to stop reading as it was for Gaiman to stop writing. Forty years ago, our narrator, who was then a seven-year-old boy, unwittingly discovered a neighboring family’s supernatural secret. What happens next is an imaginative romp through otherwordly adventure that could only come from Gaiman's magical mind. Childhood innocence is tested and transcended as we see what getting between ancient, mystic forces can cost, as well as what can be gained from the power of true friendship. The result is a captivating tale that is equal parts sweet, sad, and spooky. --Robin A. Rothman
*Starred Review* In Gaiman’s first novel for adults since Anansi Boys (2005), the never-named fiftyish narrator is back in his childhood homeland, rural Sussex, England, where he’s just delivered the eulogy at a funeral. With “an hour or so to kill” afterward, he drives about—aimlessly, he thinks—until he’s at the crucible of his consciousness: a farmhouse with a duck pond. There, when he was seven, lived the Hempstocks, a crone, a housewife, and an 11-year-old girl, who said they were grandmother, mother, and daughter. Now, he finds the crone and, eventually, the housewife—the same ones, unchanged—while the girl is still gone, just as she was at the end of the childhood adventure he recalls in a reverie that lasts all afternoon. He remembers how he became the vector for a malign force attempting to invade and waste our world. The three Hempstocks are guardians, from time almost immemorial, situated to block such forces and, should that fail, fight them. Gaiman mines mythological typology—the three-fold goddess, the water of life (the pond, actually an ocean)—and his own childhood milieu to build the cosmology and the theater of a story he tells more gracefully than any he’s told since Stardust (1999). And don’t worry about that “for adults” designation: it’s a matter of tone. This lovely yarn is good for anyone who can read it. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: That this is the popular author’s first book for adults in eight years pretty much sums up why this will be in demand. --Ray Olson
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It's a short book; it's enchanting; it's very well written...definitely top-quality fantasy literature. I'm not a fan of fantasy literature, but this book swept me away into such a delightful and fascinating series of incredible adventures--or should I say misadventures--that I could not pull myself away. The author is correct to warn that this is not a fable for children...the reality is far too stark and dark, and there are definitely some adult themes.
"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" is a tale about a lonely bookish seven-year old whose life takes a terrifying turn into a dark and creepy reality. The child is never named, but in recent interviews, the author admits that this child is very much like he was at that age. The child lives in the lovely English countryside of Sussex--the same environment where the author grew up. And like Gaiman, the child is wise, responsible, and moral beyond his years. The parents are blithely confident that nothing bad could happen to their brilliant bookish son in such a bucolic setting. But of course, bad things can, and do happen, especially to the pure and innocent...
The parents have no idea that the Hempstocks--an eleven-year-old girl, her mother, and grandmother--who live by a pond at the end of the lane, are really a group of immortals who play at being human. Our seven-year-old child makes friends with the girl, Lettie Hempstock, and she introduces him to the pond, which is really an ocean. Eventually, our narrator and Lettie take a trip into a higher plain of reality that is entered somehow through the property owned by the Hempstocks, and so begins a series of remarkable misadventures with unforeseen consequences.
This novel is a heroic tale about the age-old battle between childhood innocence and mythic forces. The book will charm you, fill you with awe, make you feel on edge, surprise you, and make you want to keep on reading no mater what important obligations you might have waiting for you to accomplish.
Since finishing the book this afternoon, I was so curious about this fine writer that I started doing research into his life, philosophy, and writing. It seems that in prepublication interviews, Gaiman says that he's prouder of this particular work than anything else he's ever written...and, as I learned today, this is an author who has had an insanely prolific career spanning blockbuster successes across a large number of different creative media. He says he's put an enormous amount of effort into writing and rewriting this book in order to get the tone, words, and dramatic focus just right. A number of critics have already said they consider this work to be as close to sterling literary fiction as Gaiman is ever likely to get.
Indeed, I was very impressed. For me, this work is, without doubt, first-rate fantasy and escapist fiction...and very fine literature, as well. It delivers a highly imaginative, fabulous and fascinating fable that envelops, and attempts to explain, everything in the space-time continuum. Yes, it's that ambitious! It had me hooked from the first to the last page. Simply put: it is an incredible gem of a novel.
Beyond the stellar narration, the story was just so-so. I started reading it last year and quickly grew bored, so I stopped. Then I decided to give it another go when I found the audio version with Gaiman reading.
His voice and inflections give the story a little punch, but not enough to make up for all the elements I felt this novel lacked.
This is a book that started off as a short story and was expanded into a novel, and you can tell. For me, it still sits somewhere in-between a short story and a full blown novel, and I thought it could have used some more expanding and exploring of the characters, most of whom felt never fully realized.
Still, Gaiman's narration merits an extra star, and I did enjoy letting him read to me.
Gaiman's sense of description and and the way he puts words together really is interesting. I really found it interesting that the narrator--and his family--don't have names, just roles. As a writing device that could have been annoying and a poor decision, but here I actually think it served quite well for reasons I don't quite now how to put into words. I found the Hempstocks to be quite likable and fascinating and like-able. Having been quite bookish at most point in my childhood, I could relate to the un-named, male narrator (even as female reader).
Much like _Coraline_, this one has a couple of highly quotable passages. I could probably quote several whole sections. My favorite: "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 just look 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." Ah, how much easier growing up--and life in general--would be if this was universal knowledge... LOL When I was younger, it was so easy to think, "Adults just don't understand..." but as I've gotten older... I've come to realize yes, some adults do maybe forget what it's like to be young and going through life's various growing-pains... As I've gotten older, though, I've realized that most adults just feel pretty much like they always have and just have more accumulated "battle scars" from learning and living. I'm not sure if it's because I'm something of a big "kid-at-heart" reader, but I feel much the same I did decades (yikes!) ago and still even like many of the same things and have some of the ame dusty and rusty dreams that I had when I was little... LOL
_Coraline_ is still my favorite (and first) Gaiman book, but this one was time well-spent. I don't regret the investment--whether regarding money or time--at all. As I just finished reading the book a few minutes ago, I imagine this one will stick with me and my brain will continue to "chew" on the concepts for a while, much like _Coraline_ (a young adult novel) and _American Gods_ (another of the author's adult novels).
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