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The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 18, 2013
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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
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.
Rating: 9 out of 10 hearts (5 stars): Loved it! This book has a spot on my favorites shelf.
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Harper Collins and TLC!).