As much as I hear about Neil Gaiman and how much everyone loves him, I’ve never read any of his solo books. I read Good Omens, which he co-wrote with the late Terry Pratchett, but never any solo work. Once again, book clubs come to save the day with pushing me outside my comfort zone. Yay, book clubs!
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Summary from Goodreads:
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
I didn’t know what to think of this book. It was good, I enjoyed it, but it was so short and so fantastical that I never got into it completely. I understand why this book is targeted at adults, but the content felt overly juvenile at times. I liked remembering what it was like to be a child and believe what you are told and trust things you cannot see. I liked the characters. I just never connected with them.
It’s hard to comment on the characters credibility because half of them were under a spell, and the other half were fantastical beings of otherworldly power. Old Mrs. Hempstock reminded me of my grandmother and made me so happy to read about. Lettie was the cool friend we all wanted to have, and Ursula was the evil babysitter everyone remembered. But there was a thread of magic to all of them that made them just unbelievable enough to not seem human.
Lettie was an obvious favorite. I loved her sly comments or refusals to answer some questions and her vast knowledge. Even though she was aged well beyond her 11 years, she was still a child in maturity to her mother and grandmother. She was caring when she didn’t have to be, especially to our un-named narrator. I would have loved to be her friend.
As is the case with a lot of fantasy works, I had trouble relating to the characters only because their lives are so different from my own. I’ve never had to use magic to trick my parents or had an evil worm in my foot or been stalked by hungry shadow birds. I can’t relate to this. What I can relate to is the feeling a child has that what’s going on around him seems magical and unbelievable and that it’s impossible to explain it to an adult. Adults aren’t ready to open their minds as readily to things that can’t be explained. I liked that Gaiman brought back this memory.
I liked the scenes with Ursula. She was a great antagonist and embodied everything children remember hating about babysitters and adults. I liked the narrator’s reactions to her and that she was so evil in her manipulation that she was easy to hate.
I didn’t like the first time the narrator went to the Hempstock farm. There was a lot that wasn’t explained, and it frustrated me as a reader not to understand what was going on. I would have asked more questions than the narrator did because I’m not as trusting as a child.
Gaiman wants adults to remember what it’s like to be a child; to be trusting and confused and scared and innocent. It’s hard for adults to remember what this is like. I didn’t remember it well, but Gaiman’s book gave me a bit of a memory. I wonder how he’s able to remember childhood so vividly.
Writer’s Takeaway: As a writer, you are responsible to set a scene for your readers; something so intense they can believe they’re there. Suggestions I’ve heard include involving all five senses. That is much easier said than done. But Gaiman does it wonderfully. He speaks at length about the incredible food the Hempstocks cook, which helps with taste and smell. I could taste and smell the pancakes, and it helped bring the setting to life. I liked that he utilized this trick because it brought me more into the book.
Enjoyable and fun, but not the genre for me. Four out of Five stars.
Until net time, write on.