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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.
The seven year old boy who narrates this story lives down the lane from the Hempstock family farm where he retreats in times of distress. Here live three generations of women who are a enchanting blend of mythology, scientific meditation on the nature of the cosmos, and Platonic philosophy. They are human embodiments of the phases of the moon, but they are far older than the moon. They make the kind of delicious breakfast you'll remember decades later. Collectively their role in the book constitutes both a great comfort and a stubborn enigma.
This book's biggest fault, unfortunately, is that it invites comparison to another Neil Gaiman novel, Coraline, which also concerns a young child being menaced by a deranged substitute maternal figure. The Other Mother from Coraline is a supernatural creature, but she is driven by fears and neuroses relatable to someone in our world. For this reason, she is truly creepy. I can't say the same of Ursula Monkton, whose motivations are too obscure for me. We are told that she is a being who simply wants to make people happy but goes about it all wrong. I found myself feeling sorry for her, but I do not really understand what she is running from, or what she hopes to achieve by manipulating the boy's family.
Overall, the book leaves the impression of a story both at once remembered and forgotten, of time escaping and remaining static, of being at once vulnerable and truly protected. Afterward, you may feel the aura of The Ocean at the End of the Lane spilling over into your everyday life.