Tuesday, August 20, 2013

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

This magical fable is basically the essence of childhood, captured by a brilliant writer, into a novel. It's fantastical, exaggerated, terrifying and joyous... and it's a fascinating story, extremely well written. While reading it, I had the sense that I was inside a child's imagination. There were times of confusion, happiness and many points of extreme fear. 

The novel is set in England, and is basically a flashback story told by a middle-aged man who has returned to his childhood home. He has vivid memories of the house at the end of the lane, where he once befriended a girl named Lettie Hempstock, who has left a lasting impression in his memory. Centered around a pond that they believed was an ocean, many stories unfold in this man's memory, all of which focused on Lettie protecting him. Starting with the suicide of a visitor, including his father's affair with the babysitter, many events trigger this boy's wild imagination. Lettie Hempstock and her home is his only savior... the safe place where he can be himself and everything makes sense, even in retrospect. It is the home where he is told, "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. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world." 

There are many passages in this novel that are so poetically and beautifully written, it's jarring. For example, “Nobody actually looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody.”  Through all the events and wise words, the young boy's innocence always shines through, even among the more heavy statements like, "All monsters are scared. That's why they're monsters." Or, "I make art, sometimes I make true art, and sometimes it fills the empty places in my life. Some of them. Not all."

While a bit confusing and maybe overly-imaginative, this book is a beautifully written story about childhood. I'd recommend it highly!

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