After attempting to read what should probably be considered the worst book ever written in the history of ever, I was so pleased when you told me your choice for November would be The Ocean at the End of the Lane by the oh-so-whimsical Neil Gaiman. Lord knows we both needed a reminder that publishers will actually print well-written literature nowadays. And Neil Gaiman definitely fills that void quite adeptly.
I couldn't quite figure out to whom this book was marketed to, honestly. It's told from the vantage point of an adult man, but the majority of the story is him relaying instances from his childhood. Truly, it's very much a Gaimanesque story: a young child faces a terrifyingly sinister supernatural evil alongside a mysterious (yet also subtly sinister) ally in a world that is very present yet effectively hidden from those who don't have the ability to see it. The story by itself would appeal to a younger demographic, but the addition of the adult main character as the narrator ages it up a bit, making it accessible to the adult audience. Part of me wants to think that was a wise choice, but another part of me feels like it made the book feel a bit disjointed, as if it didn't know who was going to be reading it.
That's not to say that it wasn't written beautifully. Neil Gaiman is an expert at creating a rich world of fantasy and whimsy, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane is no exception. From the Hempstock women (hey there, Stardust!) who are witches-but-not-quite to the terrifying Ursula Monkton who is actually a spirit and not really a person at all, Gaiman created a book filled with characters who kept you guessing right up until the very end. Even at the end, there were so many unanswered questions, but I actually liked the fact that I didn't know everything. In fact, there's quite an apt quote for that:
Be boring, knowing everything. You have to give all that stuff up if you're going to muck about here."
"So you used to know everything?"
She wrinkled her nose. "Everybody did. I told you. It's nothing special, knowing how things work. And you really do have to give it all up if you want to play.Dear Niel Gaiman, you speak to my heart so wonderfully.
The only thing that I really have to complain about - and this is an unimportant problem that I have with Gaiman generally - is his use of commas. I swear, to be such a well-known, prolific author, no one seems to have told him that he splices the hell out of his sentences. Every once in a while, I felt my brain stuttering through a sentence to allow for all of the commas he threw into his sentences. It made the reading very awkward in my mind. It wasn't that huge of a deal, though. I just noticed it from time to time when I found myself rereading a sentence because I didn't understand what it meant first read-through.
At the end of the day, this book made me nostalgic for when I was a kid and able to escape to different worlds at the drop of a hat, just because I felt like I wanted an adventure. Thankfully, writing has helped me to hold on to a bit of that, and I feel like I'm more imaginative and adventurous than most, but there is a certain sliver of childhood that I no longer have due to growing up (kind of like the Peter Pan syndrome), and this novel made me miss it.
Ending Thoughts: Not my favorite, but still highly entertaining and fantastical. It was like reading a Hayao Miyazaki film with just a dash of Stephen King. Thumbs up from me.
Love from your kindly Sister Person,
Stefers the Great