Monday, September 23, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Reviewed by Jeanne

Have you ever tried to remember something from your childhood? Not the stories told over and over, but some of those half-remembered exploits that seem almost dreamlike, leaving you to ponder whether something really happened or not.  That’s the tone of the latest novel from Neil Gaiman, his first adult book in some years. 

As the story opens, a man is seeking to slip away from a funeral for awhile. He decides to go for a drive and ends up at a house he lived in as a child, following the road to an old farmhouse where he used to play with a girl named Lettie who lived there with her mother and grandmother.  Odd how he had forgotten all about it, but then he begins to remember in bits and pieces at first, then more fully about that time.  Money had been tight so his family took in a lodger, a man who stole the family car and then committed suicide.  Strange events begin take over, coins found and then hurled, good intentions gone awry as something has been unleashed. An odd woman appears at his house, one who charms and seduces the boy’s parents and sister, while menacing the boy.  The narrator becomes the focus of two opposing forces, one seeking to preserve the world while the other will destroy it.

This book is a good example of how a powerful and sophisticated story can be told in few pages, and should serve as an object lesson for any number of writers today who feel the need to pad their books with a lot of unnecessary detail.  (My personal theory is that this is one reason YA literature has become so popular with adults.  Some authors seem to lose sight of idea of storytelling and pack in unnecessary side plots and scenes which do little to advance character or plot.  YA books tend to get to the point.) Even though the scenes are remembered, the horror comes through strongly, without being overly graphic; they’re bone-chilling rather than gory.

Gaiman is at the top of his game here, employing beautiful prose and imagery while making the fantastical seem real as he seamlessly blends reality, fantasy and folklore into an unforgettable tale.  I know it’s one I’ll remember for a long, long time, and –like the narrator—periodically revisit, to see if what I’ve remembered is true.

And if you haven’t read Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, I would recommend it as well.  It’s classified as a children’s book and is a Newbery Award winner.  It can be summed up by a variation on a proverb:  It takes a graveyard to raise a child.

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