Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane - Neil Gaiman

    2013; 259 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Dark Fantasy; Horror.  Laurels : NY Times #1 Bestseller; 2013 National Book Award “Book of the Year”; nominated for the 2013 Nebula Award – Best Novel; 2014 Loew Award “Best Fantasy Novel”; nominated for the 2014 World Fantasy Award “Best Novel”.  Overall Rating : 10*/10.

    The funeral was a godsend in a way.  It gave him an opportunity to visit the area where he grew up.  He saw his old house where he lived as a child.  Well not the same actual house; that one had been torn down and another built in its place.  And it made him think of  his parents and his sister, even though that was 40 years ago.

    Yet what he felt really drawn to was the neighbors’ farm a mile or so farther down the lane.  The old Hempstock place, with the duck pond at the back of their property.  There was Old Mrs. Hempstock, and her daughter (he presumed), Ginnie Hempstock.  And her daughter, also presumably, young Lettie.

    He dimly recalled meeting Lettie when she was eleven and he was seven.  How many years had it been since she moved to Australia?  Wispy memories swirled evasively inside his head as he tried to think back to when he was with Lettie.  They had some strange adventure, although the details eluded him now.  But he did recollect she said the duck pond was actually an ocean, and that the Hempstocks had come from the other side.

    Ah yes, the ocean.  The ocean at the end of the lane.

What’s To Like...
    The Ocean At The End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman’s 2013 highly-acclaimed novel, which won or was nominated for all sorts of awards, most of which are listed above.  It is a clever mixing of both horror and fantasy, and balances somber topics like loneliness and dread with things like trust and hope.  There’s some magic, some monsters, and some mayhem.  But the supernatural takes a backseat to a compelling storyline about two kids developing a deep and trusting friendship.

    The book is written in the First Person POV.  The protagonist, who is also the narrator, is never given a name, although we can deduce he is a boy.  This sounds awkward, but Gaiman makes it work smoothly.

    There are only a few characters – the three Hempstock women, the narrator’s family, a nanny, and an opal miner.  So if you’re tired of novels where there are dozens of characters to keep straight, this book’s for you.  I think this is also the first book I’ve read that contained both a prologue and an introduction.

    The setting is modest – just the two family farms and the fields and country lane between them.  But Neil Gaiman fills this with all sorts of neat things – a cute kitten, a foot worm,  a “Flowers for Algernon” moment, an adorable kitten, and wormholes that don’t look anything like those described in Quantum Physics.

    This is a standalone book, suitable for the kiddies if they don’t mind being scared out of their wits.  There are multiple and successive Ultimate Evils (UE’s), which I think is very rare.  This is the second book this year that I’ve encountered it (the other one is reviewed here), and it works marvelously here.

Kindle Details...
    The Ocean At The End Of The Lane sells for $10.99 at Amazon, which seems in line for a top-tier author.   Neil Gaiman has, of course, a slew of books available for the Kindle, ranging in price from $4.99 to $14.47.

    I walked, gingerly, across the small yard to the front door.  I looked for a doorbell, in vain, and then I knocked. The door had not been latched properly, and it swung gently open as I rapped it with my knuckles.
    I had been here, hadn’t I, a long tme ago?  I was sure I had.  Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good.  I stood in the hallway and called, “Hello?  Is there anybody here?”  (loc. 82)

    The second thing I thought was that I knew everything.  Lettie Hempstock’s ocean flowed inside me, and it filled the entire universe, from Egg to Rose.  I knew that.  I knew what Egg was – where the universe began, to the sound of uncreated voices singing in the void – and I knew where Rose was – the peculiar crinkling of space on space into dimensions that fold like origami and blossom like strange orchids, and which would mark the last good time before the eventual end of everything and the next Big Bang, which would be, I knew now, nothing of the kind.  (loc. 1932)

 “You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.”  (loc. 2346)
    Simply put – The Ocean At The End of the Lane is a masterpiece, fully deserving of a 10-star rating.  I kept turning the pages, wanting to see how Lettie and the narrator were going to get out of a rather in-over-their-heads situation.

    The writing is masterful, and so is the storytelling.  Just about the time you begin to tire of the first UE, Gaiman switches in something new and more horrifying.  Then he closes everything up with an ending that will leave you both sweating with relief and with a lump in your throat.

    If I were forced to say something negative to balance all this gushiness, the only thing I can think of is that the book’s too short.  I wasn’t ready for it to end.

    10 Stars.  Overwhelmingly recommended.  There’s a reason this was a New York Times #1 bestseller, and it’s not just because of the Neil Gaiman name on it.

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