Neil Gaiman’s new novel is the Ocean at the End of the Lane. Gaiman’s writes continuously, but his last novel was The Graveyard Book in 2008. Like much of his work, including The Graveyard Book, Ocean invokes a modern fairy tale. There is magic and wonder, but also threat.
At 192 pages, this is a short novel and it reads very quickly. Perhaps that was due to the fact that I just couldn’t put it down.
The story is about a man who begins to remember a strange summer from his childhood. As an adult he has blocked it out, perhaps due to magic and perhaps due to the unpleasant occurrences. As a lonely boy, he befriended by Lettie Hempstock. The events surrounding their meeting complicate that summer and place the boy, his family the world and the Hempstock’s in danger.
Here are things to love about this book:
Gaiman’s easy and engaging fantasy. It is good. So good and so comfortable until he makes it scary and uncomfortable.
The story of a lonely boy. A lot of this feels autobiographical. While obviously a fiction, it feels that elements of the story are drawn from Gaiman’s experience. Maybe they aren’t, but those elements feel true. True and poignant and often sad.
The bits of horror. Sometimes the horror is in the magical threat. But I thought the most effective horror were the grounded bit. Moments of fear and isolation and the scariest bits are when the boy’s family begins to turn on him.
The theme of finding and losing the wonder of youth. It is the opposite of a coming of age story. As an adult the protagonist is still isolated. Surrounded by family, a job, and a life of events, he still has the same trouble connecting and this makes him feel detached. The memories of youth show that parallel. They are scary and he is still lonely and isolated, but he isn’t detached. The fear and wonder and magic connect him to his family, the Hempstock’s and a bigger world. It was something he had as a child and lost as an adult.
Here are things to dislike about the book:
It is too short. There is so much emotion bound in its slim covers. It accomplishes so much. But it still feels like just a wetting of the palette. It leaves you wanting more.
That is a pretty good thing to dislike.