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Neil Gaiman – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

November 15, 2013

82. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (2013)

Length: 182 pages

Genre: Fantasy

Started: 09 October 2013
Finished: 15 October 2013

Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
Why do I have it? New Neil Gaiman!
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 10 June 2013 (Oh goodness, that’s embarrassing.)

Who’s to say that there
isn’t an ocean inside
every duck pond?

Summary: When our narrator returns to his childhood home to attend a funereal, he finds himself inexplicably drawn towards the house at the end of the lane. The old woman that lives there lets him go sit out by the pond, and as he does, he remembers a disturbing episode from his childhood. It started with a boarder in his parents house who committed suicide in his car, which unleashes some dark and ancient power into our young narrator’s life. He’s taken into the protection of Lettie Hempstock, the eleven-year-old girl (or so she says), who lives with her mother and grandmother in the old farmhouse with the pond, which Lettie insists is an ocean. But will Lettie – as strong and as strange and as brave as she as she is – be strong enough to drive away the darkness which has invaded even the places and people he thought would always be safe?

Review: This book was lovely and haunting and so, so very Gaiman-ish. Like if you’d taken all of Gaiman’s work and distilled it down to its essence, you’d have this book. The ideas that there are power out there, powers that are greater and more terrible that we can imagine, and they’re always there, a half-degree turn away from reality. That stories are a way of trying to understand and deal with the effects when those powers touch our world, and our lives. That your perception is not reality, it’s just a story you tell yourself, but that makes it more powerful, not less. I feel like I have come across these ideas from Gaiman over and over again, but rather then feeling stale, something about the way he uses them in service of this story makes them purer and more concentrated, and they packed a heck of a wallop. The characters all felt familiar, not like I knew them, but like I’d met them before wearing other faces, other guises, other angles in which the world of the Hempstocks has touched ours. (Again, very Gaiman-y: a lot of playing around with archetypes and mythology.) And so, even though Gaiman’s never big on explaining how his fantasy realm works, what the rules are, which has bugged me in the past, in this case he almost doesn’t need to; the way things work makes sense because that’s the way things have always worked, and some inner part of you has known it all along. And there are some sweet and touching moments, but there are also some truly scary moments, with most of the worst ones not being fantasy elements at all, but the real darkness that is always lurking, right out of the corner of your eye. In fact, the scenes where the fantasy elements were the strongest, the scenes in the other reality, were some of my least favorite, since they seemed the most descriptive and somehow the least resonant. But overall, a lovely and haunting little book to get lost in on a fall afternoon. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Definitely recommended. It’s got a dark fairy tale – or maybe fable is the better term – feeling to it, like a modern myth, and recommended to anyone who wants a reminder that our world, even as children, is not all sweetness and light (but still contains courage and goodness and strength, even facing the dark.)

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: There’s a bazillion, so I’m just going to point you to the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: It was only a duck pond, out at the back of the farm.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 26: “None of the coins was dated later than 1937, and I spent the afternoon polishing them with brown sauce and vinegar, to make them shine.” – a condiment that is essentially a mixture of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. The ingredients include a varying combination of tomatoes, molasses, dates, tamarind, spices, vinegar, and sometimes raisins or anchovies. It is similar but not identical to steak sauce in the United States.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2013 9:29 am

    I’ve been waiting for the buzz to die down on this one before I give it a try. I’m anxious to read it even though I’m not sure it’s for me.

    • November 29, 2013 10:21 am

      Kathy – I’ll be interested to see what you think! It’s maybe a little fantasy-heavy for your tastes, but something about it still seems like it might be accessible to non-fantasy fans.

  2. November 15, 2013 11:12 am

    Lovely review. Very insightful — made me want to read this. Thanks!

  3. November 15, 2013 4:17 pm

    I loved this one too, and I’m not even a big Neil Gaiman fan.

    • November 29, 2013 10:25 am

      Sam – I find Neil Gaiman reliably good, and sometimes (like in this case) very good, and I’ll read his new stuff without hesitation, but I am not at the level of fandom that I think a lot of people are.

  4. November 17, 2013 10:03 pm

    It is like distilled Gaiman! Or like the perfect product of that Facebook app that makes up statuses that sound like something you would say. :p

    There’s a joke in Dollhouse where one character asks another one what’s in brown sauce, and the other one says, “Science doesn’t know! It’s made of brown. Mined from the earth by the hardscrabble brown miners of North Brownderton.” That’s what I think of every time I hear about brown sauce now.

    • November 29, 2013 10:27 am

      Jenny – Hah! That’s how he wrote it, just fed all of his previous novels into the app and let fly.

      I don’t remember that bit from Dollhouse, but I only watched it the once. I’m considering a rewatch, but I think I should wait until I finish my Buffy/Angel rewatch. Can’t mainline ALL the Whedon all at once. :)

  5. November 20, 2013 10:18 pm

    This is indeed so very Gaiman-y! I love what you said about meeting these characters with different faces…and while I usually like explanations, this was definitely a book meant to stay a little more mysterious!

    • November 29, 2013 10:28 am

      Cheryl – It’s true, although I can’t quite put my finger on why some of Gaiman’s other books have made me super annoyed that he doesn’t explain how his world works, and in this one, I just shrugged it off with zero problem.

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