Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - 2nd attempt

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Copyright 2013
William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins) - Fantasy
178 pp.

Going to the easy Q/A format for my second attempt at reviewing this book (I didn't like my first review, which was long, cluttered with too many quotes and didn't include my thoughts about its flaws, so I never put links up at Twitter and Facebook).

It was not pitch-black.  It was the kind of cloudy night where the clouds seem to gather up light from distant streetlights and houses below, and throw it back at the earth.  

~p. 79

Ursula Monkton smiled, and the lightnings wreathed and writhed about her.  She was power incarnate, standing in the crackling air.  She was the storm, she was the lightning, she was the adult world with all its power and all its secrets and all its foolish casual cruelty.  She winked at me.

~p. 86

What led you to pick up The Ocean at the End of the Lane?

Neil Gaiman is an author whose books are iffy for me.  Some I love, some leave me wondering what on earth that was about, but those I love become favorites that end up on the permanent shelves, so I look forward to his new releases.  

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending:

While at home in his native Sussex for a funeral, a man returns to the site of his rambling childhood home and is reminded of events that took place when he was 7 years old.  At the time, his parents were having financial difficulty and he had to give up his room to be used by a string of boarders. Death, betrayal, loneliness, the love and companionship of a pet, friendship, and fear all feature in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Many of the story's elements imply "Animal-loving, book-addicted nerdy artistic type recalls childhood fears and experiences that made him what he is today." But, those bits are also tied into an adventurous and nicely creepy fantasy story with a fairy ring, an ocean that appears to be a pond, and what I think you could refer to as "old magic".  But while those hints at the author's backstory are the core of the novel and apparently its purpose, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is also about how people grow and change and narrow in many ways but the same child is still there, lurking inside us.

Capsule description:  A deeply personal story of childhood fear, wrapped in fantasy.

What did you like most about The Ocean at the End of the Lane?

I liked the fact that The Ocean at the End of the Lane was more personal in nature than any other book I've read by Gaiman.  It was only between readings (I've read it twice) that I found out I was correct in assuming that the author opened up emotionally in The Ocean at the End of the Lane as the book was written for (or, maybe to) his wife to explain himself in ways he apparently found difficult to share in person. I could relate to his childhood in many ways (in a broad sense, as in the bookish tendencies, love of a companionable kitty and awkwardness) and I enjoyed the fantasy portion because it was creepy without being nightmare-inducing, adventurous, highly descriptive of British childhood and a pleasant story of friendship.  

What did you dislike about The Ocean at the End of the Lane?

Actually, let's make this clear:  I loved The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  I thought it had one major flaw, though, and that's the fact that it plods along sounding like a bildungsroman and then suddenly the little boy and his new friend, Lettie, are walking into a dangerous fantasy world. In other words, the segue to the fantasy world was a bit of a jolt.  That didn't bother me, upon the first reading, but it stood out a bit more on the second reading and helped me to understand where the, "What was that about?" sensation some of my friends have mentioned comes from.  In fact, it kind of makes me want to give Coraline a second go because I so did not get that book at all.

The only thing I actually disliked was not part of the story but the acknowledgments.  Any nerdy guy who sprinkles quotes about books being his best friends throughout a book ought to understand that true book addicts are going to read the acknowledgments (and afterword, author's notes, etc.)  It matters not one whit that the reader knows absolutely nobody in the author's life.  For my part, I like reading lists of names.  I'm fascinated by the variety of ways people name their offspring.  

This is the first paragraph from the acknowledgements:

This book is the book you have just read.  It's done.  Now we're in the acknowledgments.  This is not really part of the book.  You do not have to read it.  It's mostly just names.

Um . . . yeah.  If this was a children's book, maybe that would be a nice little addition, but it is not and I think in the context of a "childhood story told to adults" that paragraph comes off as rather obnoxious and/or condescending, whether or not it was it was intended that way.  I read the acknowledgments anyway, of course.  I always do.

Share a favorite scene from the book:

I particularly liked the scene toward the end of the book, when Lettie plunks the boy into a protective fairy ring and tells him absolutely not to move, no matter what, the things that happen while he waits, and his exit from the fairy ring (which I suppose would be a spoiler).  It's delightful and creative.  

In general:

Highly recommended - I loved the blend of "what it was like being a young boy in Sussex" with Neil Gaiman's touch of fantasy.  I don't always "get" Gaiman's books but this one really worked for me.

Cover thoughts:

What a gorgeous cover!  It's got that little hint of creepiness, the color is beautiful and the image is relevant to the storyline.  Definitely a grabber and one of my favorite covers of the year.


The Guardian review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by A. S. Byatt (contains spoilers) - The comments are interesting as they reveal elements the author has used in other books:

"I'm sure there are plenty of allusions which I missed, but did anyone else pick up that the Hempstock women have the same name because they are actually the three stages of womanhood - maiden, mother and crone?"

That comment by someone posting as "Gatz" led to some interesting discussion.

I received a copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane from HarperCollins in return for an unbiased review.  My thanks to HarperCollins!

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I want to read this soon since I have never had a chance to read any of his books between this Coraline, Startdust and the Grave book, I will keep adding to my list. lol

    1. You're going to have a long list if you wait too long. LOL Stardust and The Ocean at the End of the Lane are my all-time favorites. I still need to read Neverwhere (and there are a few that actually don't interest me, but I'm sure there are plenty of other titles I need to get around to reading).

  2. This was an interesting review, Bookfool. I enjoyed the way you did it, and not giving any spoilers away at the same time. I do want to read it, I have it on order at the library, which I will get in 2015 sometime.....I have read several of his books, so it's mostly that I don't buy many hardcovers any more, and am waiting for it in softcover. I enjoyed The Graveyard Book so very much. This one The Ocean At the End of the Lane sounds interesting - not your usual fantasy, that's for sure. I'm curious how I will like it. Darn, I don't want to wait another year for it to come out in softcover!

    1. Thanks, Susan! I altered that from a format that I used to use regularly (added the "capsule description" and links). 2015?? That's a long time to wait! I prefer paperback, too, mostly because soft covers (particularly trade paperback) are easier to hold and take less shelf space. It is definitely unusual -- and it makes me want to go back to The Graveyard Book and Coraline to see if they click with me a bit better upon a second reading. I may have tried to read too much into those two books.


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