The Ocean at the End of the Lane
21 September 2014 Leave a comment
Author: Neil Gaiman
Summary: This is what he remembers, as he sits by the ocean at the end of the lane:
A dead man on the back seat of the car, and warm milk at the farmhouse; An ancient little girl, and an old woman who saw the moon being made; A beautiful housekeeper with a monstrous smile; And dark forces woken that were best left undisturbed.
These are memories hard to believe, waiting at the edges of things. The recollections of a man who thought he was lost but is now, perhaps, remembering a time when he was saved…
Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5
Review: I have only read one Neil Gaiman book before, American Gods, and i really enjoyed it. I didn’t know much about Gaiman’s other books, or his general writing style, so i still didn’t know what to expect from this book. Now i’ve read it, i can say i still don’t know what to expect for the next one.
I loved the fantasy aspect. The Hempstock family, their other-worldliness and mystery as well as the monsters, Ursula Monkton and the Varmints. I wanted to know more about them, even if the things i found out only left me with more questions. I loved all three Hempstocks, and maybe especially Lettie. The end then, though quite a shock, was simultaneously the best and worst part of the book.
The narrator is not named, and most of the book is told from the point of view of him as an adult remembering the events of when he was seven. I liked how this allowed for the seven year old perspective, but with adult reflections of what was happening and what it meant. I loved how he just accepted the Hempstocks and their strange abilities, as any self-respecting seven year old should. I loved hearing about his life and, most especially, about his love of reading (do people who love reading ever get tired of reading about characters who love reading? I don’t think so).
Now, the things i didn’t like. First of all, the narrator’s family’s “financial troubles”. They claim to be struggling so much that the mother has to get a part time job. They’re struggling so much that they offer rent and board to women to watch the kids for a few days a week. They’re struggling so much they have a couple come in to do the gardening and cleaning. This is not struggling, this is middle class. And the privilege that was not being checked throughout the entire book goaded my annoyance every time it was mentioned.
The only other thing that really bothered me, didn’t really bother me. It was just… potential. I think the book has more. I never felt the narrative was pulling me anywhere. There was nothing i was really wondering, no place i was waiting to get to. There were several small, and quickly remedied plot points, but no over-arcing plot stringing them together. Then i read the questions to the author at the end of the book, and this fact only made more sense. Gaiman said he wrote this without knowing what was going to happen. He said he was writing with a limited view as to what was to happen. He said that the twist at the end caught him by as much surprise as it does the reader. And really, that style of writing really shows in this book. It meanders, it plods along, it takes a few twists, but it doesn’t wrap up nicely or have running themes or motifs, and it lacks a lot because of that, for me.
For a long way through the book i was hoping it would be left open at the end, as to whether the story that was being told actually happened or was all the imagination of a seven-year-old boy. And the idea is touched upon, with Old Mrs Hempstock pointing out that no two people will ever remember events the same. But in the end it was definitely left more on the ‘it did happen’ side, with only the idea that maybe it didn’t happen exactly as we’d been told.
I did enjoy this book, and very much look forward to reading more Gaiman in future; having read American Gods, i know he can do better.