Review for the non-Gaiman fans: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
is a story about a middle-aged man who goes back to the scene of his childhood, spurred on by the memories of a girl named Lettie Hempstock who once said the pond by her home was an ocean. The closer he gets the more he remembers, when a suicide led to a darkness stealing out of somewhere unknowable, and a darkness invading his life while he is helpless to stop it. He begins to recall the summer when he was seven and that darkness tied itself to his heart, with mysterious and wise Lettie as his only hope of protection.
Gaiman writes myths and legends with a quiet sense of place, where you know those elements are greater than stated by the narration, and possibly greater than yourself. This is tied well because he can get into the essence of a child's head very well, their fears and methods of cognitive recognition, the compartmentalization of knowing a horrible evil thing wants to hurt you badly and yet the comfort of a kitten can become an immediate remedy. The child's soul is there even if he gives them a voice that is older than their age.
Ultimately, it is more a story to see the details than get to the end of it, although he ties suspense in so well that you fear what may happen to the unnamed narrator. If you have never read anything of Neil Gaiman's this is a good start for a blend of dark fairytales and wonderment mixed with dread.Review for the Gaiman fans:
A novella that retreads some of Gaiman's favorite subjects that seem to blend his juvenile work with his older novels, as indicated by the framing of the narrator as a middle aged man telling the story of when he was seven. At its heart showcases the mysteries of the universe with a keenly felt edge of childhood's perception. It is not Gaiman's strongest work, but it might be the one that is more his than any of the others; in fact, when you read about the narrator's lifelong search to make art, you might mistake it for Gaiman's own words.
At the same time, there are elements in it that he has done better in other ways. If you wanted a story that encapsulated the fears and threats of a child protagonist, his work in Coraline
is richer and more compelling in its gothic horror. The Graveyard Book
surrounds its child protagonist with a more consistent setup of supernatural mentors in comparison the Hempstocks, who serve as protectors to this book's narrator, but often feel too mysterious to work as opposed to being Just Mysterious Enough to be both recognizable and not. For his interesting concepts of eternity, reality and other heavy philosophical questions, his work in Sandman
and The Books of Magic
state their positions (or lack of ones) in a more drawn out and nuanced way than the protagonist's revelations.
However, for someone who wants a story that is equal parts fear lurking underneath your bed and wonder at what those dark alcoves mean in the sense of a greater understanding, this book is an engrossing read that you can finish in one sitting. Even Gaiman at his less than best can still deliver thoughtful and poetic narration that is a worthwhile experience, full of myth and wonder that would bring you back to his other works.