Published by William Morrow Books on 18th June 2013
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Horror
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It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed - within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.
His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.
Neil Gaiman is the sort of author whom I always mean to read, and yet never actually get around to picking up.
I’ve enjoyed adaptations of his work. Coraline is one of my favorite films, and Stardust, though flawed, proved an entertaining watch.
And I like the man himself. His imagination and skill as a writer is clear, and he seems like that kind of down-to-earth celebrity whom you can easily imagine spending an afternoon with, drinking tea and talking fiction.
Yet, I’ve only read one of his stories in its entirety, and that was the aforementioned tale of button eyes and Other Mothers. I have attempted his Good Omens twice, and one day intend to make the journey through his Sandman series, but otherwise have been seemingly the only reader in all of existence who hasn’t devoured and loved his words to bits.
All this leading up to the actual novel subject to this review: As his latest, Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a remarkable little book that really works for a number of reasons, and proves a slice of cultural output that convinces me once and for all that I really need to seek out the author’s other works.
The reasons mentioned above are as follows:
One: Its short length and quick pace has, I think, made this story the perfect means through which to ease myself back into the habit of regular reading – something that I have been putting off for several months now.
Two: It reads precisely the way I’ve always believed that a Gaiman book would. It’s magical and contemplative, a capturing of childhood wonder and adult sorrow, with the slightest dash of bittersweet mixed in for good measure.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is not a particularly complex story, yet has a depth that makes it satisfying despite its length. You’re left with the sort of closure that you might otherwise only expect from decidedly longer novels, with nothing left unsaid or rushed. 200 pages was all the space Gaiman gave himself to tell his tale, and it’s clearly all that he needed.
His prose is enchanting in the quietest of ways, languid and smooth. His use of words is precise and poetic, imparting detail in abundance without being excessive or gaudy. There’s something almost pastoral about Gaiman’s storytelling, bringing to mind the simple, natural magic of rich earth and firefly-filled nights and hand-carved wood. His stories are fairy tales, regardless of setting and plot, and feel more belonging to leather-bound books of thick paper and hand-written calligraphy than mass-produced paperbacks or e-readers.
What especially draws me to Gaiman’s style is his ability to exploit the unique ability of the written word as a storytelling medium. He fills his tales with descriptions of things that cannot be clearly seen in the mind’s eye – things that would be near impossible to put into visual images without a consequent loss of the mystery and wonder that made his words so enthralling to begin with. It is a bit frustrating at times, being unable to completely grasp the scenes that he paints, but I can’t help but be simultaneously impressed with such a shortcoming (if it can even be called that) here in a time when we rely so steadfastly on what can be shown clearly to the physical eye. Anyone who may claim that the book is an antiquated means of weaving a tale is wrong, and Gaiman’s imagination is excellent proof of such.
And despite its fantasies and general strangeness (Stephen King’s work comes to mind, and I certainly don’t make such a comparison derogatorily), Gaiman keeps his characters and their narratives grounded in relatable truths, giving everything the sobering aftertaste of reality. What we have here is a story not only of other worlds and strange creatures, but a story also of the pitfalls of childhood and the uncertainties of growing up, of the uneasy balance between the two that we all must tread. There’s something timeless and universal in these words, and it isn’t difficult to find that something amidst the dramas of immortality and altered realities.
It is a sweet yet hard-edged tale, easy to pick up and easy to finish, and the lack of commitment makes The Ocean at the End of the Lane a book that every reader can pick up. Fans of the author will undoubtedly be enthralled, and those somehow unfamiliar with the author should be no less enchanted.
So thank you, Mr Gaiman, for your artistry. You make my shelves a better place.