The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


The Ocean at the End of the Lane
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 look just 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.

When he was a young child, our nameless narrator's family was pretty well-off and had a big house that he lived in with his parents and sister. But when they hit against slightly hard times, the boy had to give up his bedroom with its perfect-sized washbasin, as tall as him, so that boarders could stay there. One such boarder was an opal miner, who fatally hits the boy's cat on the day he arrives and commits suicide the next day. This death sets in motion a very strange sequence of events - his neighbors suddenly seem to receive a lot of money, leading to a lot of ill-will, a strange family at the end of the lane seems to know everything there is to know about everything, and a malicious housekeeper-cum-babysitter arrives at the boy's house. His troubles are only beginning - he doesn't like his housekeeper, whereas the rest of his family are enamored with her; strange unsettling things happen around him (for instance, he once dislodged a worm from a hole in his feet) and his housekeeper just seems out to get him, and maybe even kill him.

Even though this book is shelved as Horror in Goodreads, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is so far away from being anything remotely horror. This short book is such a little gem that transported me to the magical world that Gaiman has built. It's one thing to enjoy such a vivid atmosphere, it's another to feel a part of it, as Gaiman manages to do.

I had read another Gaiman book previously, Coraline, which I didn't enjoy much, though I thought it very clever. Usually, that's the end of my new-author exploration, but Gaiman's books come with such strong testimonials that I very desperately wanted to read something else by him - something that, maybe, an older audience would appreciate more.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane has fantasy at its best. There are all sorts of inexplicable things happening - worms lodged in the feet? three people who seem to have been around since time immemorial, literally? a pond that may as well be an ocean? memories that can be easily wiped or modified? The best part is that you can read this book without questioning even one of those fantastical elements. I often moan in reviews of fantasies that the magical aspects of the books weren't explained well enough or weren't convincing enough. With this book, there is no explanation offered at all. You can ask ten questions for every strange thing mentioned, but the odds are that you won't think to ask - as a reader, I felt the same willingness to accept anything that children are bestowed with.

The family that lives at the end of the lane in the Hempstock farm, Lottie, her mother (Ginnie Hempstock or Mrs Hempstock) and Lottie's grandmother (Old Mrs. Hempstock), adds their own layer of charm to the story. This is a family that has purportedly been around for many years, even though Lottie is just eleven in the story. Our narrator knows enough to ask Lottie for how long she has been eleven. When the strange money-related events start happening, Lottie steps ahead to stop the "monster" responsible for it. She is confident that nothing will go wrong, except a lot of things do go wrong, some badly.

By the end of the book, my only complaint was that this book was too short. I know that I loved a book when I struggle to read anything for the next couple of days. I love how this book is written about children but is not for children. At the same time, Gaiman writes in such a way that he makes me willing to believe everything he writes. Definitely a strong storyteller.

I borrowed this book from the good old library.

10 comments:

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

Gaiman is hit or miss for me but I've heard so much about this book, I want to read it. I think I should wait for the buzz to die down, though.

Ti Reed said...

I just got this one from the library. Now, after reading your review, I am really looking forward to it.

Athira / Aths said...

Based on the type of books you enjoy, I think you will enjoy this one. It is pretty entertaining.

Athira / Aths said...

Yay! I can't wait to hear your thoughts on this one.

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

A thing I love about Neil Gaiman when he writes about children is how well he seems to remember the way kids can accept anything that's presented to them. It makes sense -- when you're little, you don't have as much context for the sorts of things that are likely and unlikely to happen. And I loved that about The Ocean at the End of the Lane -- like when the kid gets the worm in his foot, he's like, oh yeah, this must be a thing that can happen. :p

Helen Murdoch said...

I am so embarrassed to say that I have still never read a Gaiman book. I promise I will one of these days!

Athira / Aths said...

This is only my second Gaiman. I am hoping to read some of the more popular ones by him next.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

You have me thinking I definitely must pick this up. Soon.

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you read it soon. If there's an audio, grab that. I'm sure it is impressive on audio as well.

christa 2 mental foodie said...

I couldn't get into this book :( Send me some spoilers about what happened lol! :)