Friday, August 23, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

This week we are visiting a short fantasy novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel, by Neil Gaiman. This book tops out at less than two hundred pages, but it is one of Gaiman’s most beautiful works.  I loved Stardust, and I love The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I know Neil Gaiman is not an indie, and this makes two weeks in a row that I have strayed from the indie path. This is a truly wonderful book, and well worth reading.

The Blurb:

This bewitching and harrowing tale of mystery and survival, and memory and magic, makes the impossible all too real...

My Review

Not much of a blurb, but the wonderful, mysterious title sold me the book.  

The tale that is revealed within the pages of this book stayed with me long after I had finished. The lyrical prose is pure Gaiman at his best. I have frequently felt his work will bring back a new appreciation for the art of beautiful words, neatly crafted and wrapped in wonderful plots. There are no sixty-second sound-bites of action in this book—it is instead a true fairy-tale, taking us to bad places where bad things can happen and good people sometimes suffer terrible consequences.

The main protagonist is never named, so far as I could see. The unnamed protagonist returns to his childhood hometown for the funeral of a close family member, also not named. There he revisits the home in which he and his sister grew up and remembers his friend, Lettie Hempstock, who always said that the pond behind her house was an ocean.

He stops at the house where Lettie had lived with her mother and grandmother and encounters her mother. He begins to remember long-forgotten incidents from the past. He recalls a time when he was a child of only seven years old. A man he and his family knew stole his father's car and committed suicide in the back seat, having gambled away his friends' money. Somehow, his suicide allowed a supernatural being to enter our world.

The Hempstock women have magic, but they aren’t witches.  They are much more than that, and the magic they do has its roots firmly based in the solid physics of the universe, in quarks and electrons and time itself.

The atmosphere is dark and frightening in this tale, but it is also comfortable, like a fire on a chill night. The contrasting moods of the boy’s struggling home life and the old-fashioned, cozy farmhouse Lettie lives in are woven into the story with delicacy, flowing naturally and forming the background of the protagonist’s memories of a terrifying time in his life.

This is a stunning, harsh tale, frightening and yet comforting in a strange way. There is beauty here among the sometimes ugly facts of a lonely young boy’s life.

I confess I did pay $9.99 for the Kindle download, and then I read the book in one day. It was well worth it, and I will do it again for his next book!

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