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Neil Gaiman's "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" (2013) begins with a quote by Maurice Sendak, "I remember my own childhood vividly. I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn't let adults know I knew. It would scare them." Sendak's quote is an apt warning.
"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" is about a child, but, as Gaiman has made clear, it is not a book for children. Gaiman takes the worst nightmares of childhood (I had forgotten them myself, but no more) and binds them together into a compelling story.
Remember stepping on something sharp and worrying for days or weeks that it would kill you? But not telling your parents . . . Agonizing about the possibility no one would come to your birthday party? Being locked in an attic? Clothes that come to life and grab you? Worrying that your father will truly get so mad at you he will actually try and kill you? The babysitter who is vicious to you but sweet to your parents? Those fears are all in "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," wrapped up in parental preoccupation, indifference, and bewilderment at the 7 year old boy who finds a savior in the remarkable Lettie Hempstock.
Lettie lives at the end of the lane, with her mother and grandmother, near a pond that is the ocean. The reason the pond is an ocean and the remarkable powers of the Hempstock women are, to some extent, reminiscent of Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" (1988).
The story is intriguing on many levels, and Gaiman is an excellent narrator. I only wish I'd been able to listen to this curled up in a blanket with a cup of hot tea, instead of in my car, stuck behind a Cooper Mini for an interminable amount of time.
The title of this review is from a trade Lettie makes to get the tokens she needs to save her 7 year old friend. The eerie magic stuck with me.
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719 of 768 people found this review helpful
This short novel will undoubtedly stand as one of Neil Gaiman's more beautifully written, poignant books. The protagonist is a middle-aged man leaving his father’s funeral for a visit to his childhood home, where the memories of his seven year old self still linger. There, he recalls strange, dark adventures -- a friend who seemed much older than her eleven years, travels between worlds, a kindly grandmother who is more than she seems, a babysitter who turns out to be a monster in disguise, and that the kind of monsters who remove monsters can be even more dangerous.
The dark fairy tale aspects, which won't be a surprise to readers of Gaiman's other books, feel both vividly original and hauntingly familiar, the stuff of universal childhood pretend worlds and nightmares. In this novel, though, it seems, he's intentionally blurring the lines between the fantastical and the real. One could easily read this story as an allegory for childhood imagination and the way it shapes the rest of our lives, even after we outgrow it. If so, I found a lovely sadness in that interpretation. As kids, we are both tormented and protected by things in our inner worlds, which give shape to an adult world that we don't yet understand, until we ourselves are pulled into that world's trials and temptations. Will our adult lives be worthy of our original selves? Will we remember the light of our inner friends, the cruelty and deception of our inner enemies? Will we ever again meet what we left behind?
I found the gentle, bittersweet way Gaiman reflects on these questions touching. The things we remember from childhood may, in one sense, only be a small, weedy duck pond, but, in another sense, they’re as big as an ocean, our foundational experience of being human.
And, of course, I can't neglect to mention how good Gaiman's reading of his own audiobook is. His throaty, enunciative voice is, well... him.
38 of 40 people found this review helpful
Where does The Ocean at the End of the Lane rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
Quite high up!
What other book might you compare The Ocean at the End of the Lane to, and why?
I'd say it compares to most of what Gaiman writes. If you're a Gaiman fan, you'll most likely enjoy this book. If you're not a Gaiman fan, then I guess you haven't read any of his books... :)
What does Neil Gaiman bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?
There's something special about authors reading their own books, particularly when they do it as well as Gaiman does.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Yes. I almost did.
Any additional comments?
Time and time again Neil Gaiman shows what an good writer he is. This is no exception.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I was afraid to hear him read it himself because I already had a voice in my head that I attributed to him and I didn't want to be disappointed and find that my expectations had been too high. I have that fear no more. The story swept me away and his voice was the swell and ebb of the waves. Thank you sir for offering me a safe place of imagination .