Saturday, August 10, 2013

Book Review: "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman

Whether he's writing more adult fare, like American Gods or Anansi Boys, his graphic novel series, Sandman, or even books geared more toward children, like Coraline, Neil Gaiman has the ability to create magic. Sometimes through the unbelievable and unexpected, sometimes through language and imagery, Gaiman's storytelling ability is utterly captivating. And his latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, keeps his streak alive. Part fairy tale for adults, part horror story, it is poignant and suspenseful, unique, and even a little bit creepy.

One day after a funeral, a man decides to revisit some of the spots of his youth. He sees his childhood home, long transformed, and then finds himself drawn to the farmstead home of his friend Lettie Hemstock and her family. While Lettie left for Australia when they were younger, her mother is still living there, and she allows him to take a walk to the pond in the back of their property, which Lettie used to refer to as "the ocean." Sitting there by the water, his memories are drawn back to when he was a lonely, bookish seven-year-old, and he finds himself revisiting a traumatic, frightening, and, ultimately, decisive time in his childhood, when he realized things on so many fronts were not as they seemed.

So much of this story is revealed slowly and surprisingly, so to describe the plot further would do it an injustice, since Gaiman's words are far more effective than any I could choose. This is the story of friendship and loyalty, of secrets, of facing your fears, and all too accurately captures a time when children come to terms with the realities of life, and that the adults they had always looked up to aren't as infallible as they may seem.

"Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world."

What transpires in this book is frightening, emotional, poignant, and sad. It definitely triggered some familiar feelings in me, of feeling more comfortable and at ease with a book in my hand than anything else, and having to face up to your fears. I flew through the book—I read nearly the entire story in one day—and was completely hooked on the story. Gaiman's writing ability is top-notch, although there were times when some of the imagery he used was a little confusing, so I needed to re-read some passages. But ultimately, this book affected me, it frightened me a little, and most of all, it left an imprint on my mind.

If you're not a fan of books that have a little bit of horror and fantasy in them, you probably won't enjoy this book. But if you have the ability to suspend your disbelief and let yourself get lost in a beautifully written and emotionally compelling story, you won't regret it.

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