(This review was originally published on 04/23/2017)
As it is well known I am a huge and unabashed fan of Neil Gaiman. I breathe for the man’s writing and imagination and sheer wit. I picked up View from The Cheap Seats — which is a nonfiction collection that I highly recommend if you’re a writer in need of inspiration — as soon as it was released in my store. So finally finishing the Ocean at the End of the Lane, I realized it has left its mark on me as much of Neil Gaiman’s work does on me and I am in for the long haul.
This review will be spoiler free as possible because I do not want to spoil this experience for anyone else, but there will be general synopsis given so if you don’t want that, I should say you remain here at the start while the rest of us travel down to the end of the Lane and into the world of Lettie Hempstock and her Ocean.
The main character who can only be known as “the boy” as it is told from his point of view and no one seems to want to use his name, lives on a lane in a fairly rural country.
Somewhere in England…
We’re here to talk about the story, not my inability to use a map.
Anyway! As a grown man, he returns to his family home and decides to visit the farm of an old friend. As he is welcomed by his former friend’s family, he is told she’s somewhere in Australia with her father. So instead “the boy” goes to sit on a bench in front of a small pond and begins to relive the events of their faithful meeting…
He has quite an interesting summer as this is not a coming-of-age story, but rather a study of who we are as children versus who we become as adults and if the sacrifices of others around us to help us grow was worth it.
. This is… a fairy tale in its purest and most interesting form. It’s quite adult in its presentation and a bit of a departure from his usual style such as in Coraline, Star Dust, and the Graveyard Book. I found that this is because this book was written for his wife, Amanda Palmer, who doesn’t care much for fantasy/horror despite having married a man who lives and breathes it. The imagery manages to be heavily realistic yet contains small implications that not all is as it seems. The horror begins when it is realized that Lettie Hemstock has made a dreadful mistake in involving “the boy” and it costs her quite dearly.
It leads to events that infect “the boy’s” life and are fantastical yet real enough to wonder if this is simply the boy’s childish imagination telling this tale or if this is truly happening. It’s actually quite disturbing as you go along and you realize there is no villain in the general sense. They are simply people of various kinds confronting the ever-changing world and the disappearance of the world before it. They are simply people trying to survive.
It’s dark, beautiful, and touches you in a strange sort of way that you wouldn’t expect. I would have to call it tragic for me because as I read the last of it, I literally cried. I had not expected something so awful yet beautiful to happen and that “the boy” narrating this story was the last proof of Lettie Hemstock’s mark on the world as it continues to change and things of old are forgotten.
Honestly, despite it being a departure from Neil Gaiman’s usual narrative voice (at least the one I’ve become used to), the impact was just as hard, just as deep, and just as endearingly wonderful that it gave me a sense of awe upon finishing the last page.
I highly suggest you read this book. It’s a bit hard to get through at times as it drags minutely in certain parts and as I said it’s not his usual writing style, but once you have read it the impression sticks with you like folklore you hear in the dark.
I would call this a horror/fantasy due to its dark themes and content. It’s certainly not for children but I give it the highest recommendation possible if you are like me and enjoy a little darkness in your fairy tales.
Lettie is a beautiful character and “the boy” is a wonderful voice. I hope that when you pick it up, you get drawn into Lettie’s world and the Ocean at the End of the Lane.
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