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Neil Gaiman is a well known and awarded writer, having been the creative mind behind the popular graphic novel The Sandman, novels such as: Neverwhere, Stardust, Good Omens and American Gods, short stories, children books and scripts all the way from ‘Beowulf’ to “Doctor who.” Needless to say he is probably one of the most influential post-modern writers of recent history.
His new book titled The Ocean at the End of the Lane has been a bestseller for a few weeks now, even surpassing Dan Brown’s Inferno at times. It is a magical and fantastic book that should not be taken lightly. The narrator for the most part of the novel is a seven-year-old who is caught in a whirlwind of fantastical events that threaten to turn his short life upside down. With the help of his neighbors, the Hempstocks, he will face the consequences sparked by the suicide of an opal miner in the back of his father’s car.
Some people may be put off by the fact that the narrator is seven years old, but I guarantee that Gaiman captures the essence of childhood in a way that makes the reader feel like the kid. As I read the book, I often found myself reminiscing about the times when I thought adults were indestructible and I wanted to argue with them but I knew I would lose, because they were adults and adults always won. The book is a trip down a fictional memory lane, and although it probably won’t remind you of any monsters that you fought as a seven-year-old, it will spark the memories of childhood and will make the reader relate to the character. Once you pick up the book, it will be hard to put down because the suspense is in all the right places and the language is simply beautiful. The book is told in first person and with the same fluidity that is to be expected of Gaiman’s works. It is as if he told a story that had always been there, hiding in plain sight. It is a truly enjoyable and fantastic read with likable characters you can relate to.
The book starts off with the narrator as an adult going back to his home town for a funeral. At some point during the ceremonies he walks off and starts driving aimlessly around, only to find himself at the house at the end of the lane he used to walk on as a kid. He starts remembering how the girl who lived there (the character of Lettie Hempstock) said that the pond in her land was actually an ocean, and how she went away to Australia, which prompts him to visit the house to see if she has returned.
As he re-familiarizes himself with his homestead and learns that Lettie has yet to return, he starts remembering the events that transpired after his seventh birthday. That is when the real story starts and we step into the eyes of a seven-year-old, describing the powerful forces that act against us as children and the terrifying realization that adults may not be as strong as we made them out to be.
During his book tours, Gaiman has emphasized the fact that the book is slightly autobiographical. Entirely accidental, in a Google Talk he had about the book,¬†he mentioned that it started out as a short story that he would send to his wife because he missed her when she was away in Australia making an album.
I am probably best known as a writer of the fantastic, but my wife doesn’t really like fantasy. So I thought I could dial down the fantasy and put in things she likes and she likes me, so I’ll put some me in there, and she likes honesty, and she likes feelings.
This is part of the reason why this books stands out so much from the rest. We get to see a bigger part of Neil Gaiman and the way he fiddles with his memories to make them fit into the story, makes the book feel real.
It truly is a must read if you are a fan of Neil’s work, and highly recommended if you have never heard of him before. This book is fantastic, and aside from some scenes being slightly dull, it is a book that creates an appetite for reading that will not be satisfied until it’s done.¬†
Photo Courtesy of Jutta