Scoring the Book: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Read Date: 24 June 2013
Goodreads Reading Status Updates: None.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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.

“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is, perhaps, one of Gaiman’s most accessible novels. While “American Gods”, “Anansi Boys”, and “Neverwhere” were critically acclaimed, I had a very difficult time reading them. It took me a long time to finish the first two, and I never did finish “Neverwhere” (although I finished watching the BBC mini-series).

I don’t know why that is; I love the premise of all those books, and I love Gaiman’s prose…most of the time. But until now, I’ve never been able to figure out just what it is in those books that I had difficulty with, to be honest.

To my surprise, I breezed through “Ocean”. The first-person POV was very immersive, and that’s exactly what you want when you read a Gaiman novel, although I don’t think it’s healthy for my sanity to be inside his head for long periods of time like this. It can get really weird in there. 😛 But Gaiman has written something deeply personal here, and you can feel it in every word.

Because the book is not marketed for children or young adults, I was surprised by how much time was spent during the narrator’s childhood. But then again, I think this is the kind of story that you will only really appreciate if you have a substantial childhood to look back on yourself.

There are a lot of elements here that are familiar to me from reading Gaiman’s other works, in particular, “Coraline”. (Ursula reminds me so much of “The Other Mother”.) This feels sort of like an aged-up version of that.

I struggle once more to grasp why exactly I couldn’t like this book more than I did, or to rate it more than a 3.5 when almost everyone has been raving about it. I don’t think it’s the book’s fault; I think it might be me, as cliché as that sounds.

[2013.06.25: Edited to add…] Okay, I will attempt to write something that I only just realized about Gaiman’s writing. It has a weird effect on me. When I read most of his books, my brain processes them like a half-remembered dream. Some parts are hazy, some parts are vivid, some parts baffle me, and some parts, I feel, are too deep for me to fathom. And so afterwards, the stories don’t have a solid impact on me or my emotions. By the end of the stories, I am in awe, and…that’s it.

My experience was different with “Good Omens”, “Stardust”, and “Coraline”, though. Those, I had a more solid grasp on. “Mirrormask” felt like a dream all throughout, but then again, if you didn’t feel like it was a dream while you were reading it, you’re probably reading another book…or you’re a real fantasy creature who lives in a world that strange. 😛 [end additions.]

And also, when I read books, I imagine that they have an aura about them that reflects how I feel after I’ve read them. This book’s aura is very grim and gray, except for the part where Lettie Hempstock allowed the narrator (what was his name again? Handsome George?) to immerse himself into the Ocean. That might be the only time I saw a brightness in the book.

Of course, that’s not the book’s fault. Gaiman told the story that he wanted to tell, and he told it well. There are just days when I want a book with a bright aura, and today is such a day.

So don’t let my Trelawney-esque mumbo-jumbo or my brain’s inability to properly process Gaiman dissuade you. This is something that I would recommend to people no matter what my experience with it was.

And now to score the book. Nell (넬), my favorite Korean band of the moment, just released a mini-album called “Escaping Gravity”. (They’re a real band, by the way, and not a singing boy group. Their sound is influenced by Brit rock, so it’s safe to give them a listen if you like that kind of music, or if you’re not fond of popular or mainstream Korean music, a.k.a. K-pop.) The promo single for the album is called “Ocean of Light”, and I think it’s appropriate to score the part of this book that shone like a bright beacon to me. 🙂

I’m in the ocean of light
My dreams are breathing
In the dazzling waves of light
I am being born again
I’m in the ocean of light
My dreams are dancing
In the big waves of light
I am being born again
In the ocean of light

 

Read this book:

  • If you would like to be introduced to the works of Neil Gaiman. It’s more accessible than his other adult novels, except perhaps for “Good Omens”, but that’s a collaboration.
  • If you feel like reminiscing about your childhood, which, hopefully, was more…sunshine-y than the narrator’s was.
  • If you like good fantasy, but you are deathly afraid of epic fantasies.
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