When The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman showed up via UPS yesterday, I freaked out you guys! Obviously I dropped what I was reading and blew through it in one afternoon.
The narrator is a seven year old boy (well, an older man thinking back to when he was seven, anyway) that Neil Gaiman based on himself at that age – so obviously he is a really interesting character. The springboard of the story is when a lodger staying with his family racks up some pretty serious gambling debts and takes the family car down the road to commit suicide. (Again – this actually happened to Neil Gaiman’s family.) That action sets off a chain of events that makes up the bulk of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
One of the most genius parts of the story is the Hempstock family – three women with abilities. They are kind, intelligent and SO interesting. They take it upon themselves to be the narrator’s protectors against all the magicalish nightmarey goings-on. Seriously – these women are an absolute gold mine of eccentricity and layered characterization. I could read book after book featuring them. I read in an interview that they’ve been in Neil’s mind for quite awhile now, and I think that really adds to their depth.
Something else I found fascinating was the importance placed on the naming of things. The names of the narrator and his family are never revealed – they don’t really matter to the story. The Hempstocks, the evil nanny (the flea known as Ursula) and even the suicidal lodger are all named – but they all direct the story in some way. The narrator’s family just lives with the consequences. Take from that what you will – I’m not sure what the significance is, but I found it noteworthy. *strokes imaginary beard*
The magic that exists in The Ocean at the End of the Lane is so rich and complex. That really great fairy tale feeling that few authors are really able to master comes through loud and clear throughout the story. I absolutely loved the small touches sprinkled in – from the different moon phases to the cutting and restitching of time. Not to mention the duck pond/sea/ocean itself. The mystery surrounding it continues to roll around in my head and captivate me.
Basically, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an intriguing little oddity of a book. It wears a lot of different hats – mystery, horror, coming of age, tradition, fantasy, tragedy – and Neil Gaiman juggled them all with mountains of success. You could hand it to someone middle-aged and watch them muse over what the story says about remembering one’s childhood and about memory itself. You could hand it to a mature-minded pre-teen and let the story send shivers up and down their spine. You could hand it to someone afraid of water and watch them absolutely quake at the very idea of an oceanic puddle. The possibilities are practically endless.
“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be sacred of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren’t.”
“They descended. I tried to count them, as they landed, and I failed. I had thought that there were hundreds of them, but I might have been wrong. There might have been twenty of them. There might have been a thousand. I could not explain it: perhaps they were from a place where such things as counting didn’t apply, somewhere outside of time and numbers.”
To Sum it Up:
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane says a lot of things. It also accomplishes a lot of things. Is one day long enough to wait before a re-read?
- I absolutely love that the narrator and his family go through the story without names. (Even if I still haven’t quite figured out why.)
- The Hempstock family is so incredibly fascinating – I hope they pop up in Neil Gaiman’s books again soon.