The Ocean at the End of the Lane Review

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I've heard the name Neil Gaiman a lot over the past year or so and I had no idea what he wrote or what kind of author he was. All I pretty much knew was that he was the one that had written Stardust. And that's not saying much because I've only seen the movie, not read the book. But the movie was alright, I enjoyed it because of it's magical elements, so I set out this summer to read one of Gaiman's novels (including one of his graphic novels). Miraculously, in my university's library I found The Ocean at the End of the Lane and managed to snatch it before anyone else. I had previously seen the book at Target but it was $12, and for an about 170 page book I could not bring myself to buy it at the moment, especially because like I already mentioned I had no idea what Gaiman's literary style was and if I was going to like it or not.

But let me tell you, I was completely blown away with The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is completely worth the buy. I would definitely recommend having it on your bookshelf, as it's that type of novel that completely absorbs you and teleports you to this strange and mystical older world, a place that seems familiar in dreams and in childhood. I saw Gaiman's Google Talk on Youtube where he read an excerpt from the novel and discussed it. In the video he mentioned how the novel as a whole was not intended to be autobiographical except for the seven-year old boy's persona that was very resonant of a young Gaiman and his personality, the rest was storytelling and make-believe. It's interesting also on that note, that throughout the story we get the names of all the main characters except for the small boy, who is the main protagonist. I'm not sure if this was intentionally done, but looking back it makes sense for him to be nameless as Gaiman said he connected with him more personally.

If you have no clue what the novel is about (like I did) then let me go ahead and explain. The story takes place in Sussex, England in a remote village where a small, seven year-old boy lives. His family is initially described as being moderately well-off but then his parents unfortunately face a financial struggle, where the whole family is forced to sacrifice their old lifestyle to pay the bills. The little boys is forced to give up his room at the top of the stairs in order for it to be rented and move in with his sister. He's described as having no friends, except his kitty, and being an introvert; one of my favorite quotes in the book by him is, "Books were safer than other people anyway." He keeps to himself and spends all his time getting lost in the pages of his adventure or mystery books, while exploring the lands outside his doorstep. Various people come and go from his room, but the arrival of a South African man is one that changes everything. From there on, I can't reveal much except that you get magic and mysticism- and not necessarily the Harry Potter kind but the old-fashioned one. It's borderline mythological, reminding me of stories that adults tell one another and are then passed down to the children. And the best part is, that it's very much adult-based, as several scenes are a bit graphic and almost frightening. It's a goosebumps kind-of tale that will probably remain in your head for a long time.

I would highly recommend picking this up and reading it, I'm upset that I didn't get it sooner. This was the type of book that I love having on my bookshelf and would not be upset to spend money on. I finished it in a day, because it is a short read, but it left me with so many questions! I don't want to give anything away so if you haven't read the book, do NOT read on.
My biggest question now as I'm writing this review is the fact that we never find out the little boy's name. Why is that? I think perhaps that because Gaiman said he was pretty much writing him from the perspective of himself as a young boy, he didn't necessarily need a name. He's almost directly connected to Gaiman, hence we can imagine that to be him, but not quite. For a seven year-old boy, he was pretty smart and I loved that he loved books; his nose was always stuck in the pages of books and he went along with that magical other world that the Hempstock's were a part of without questioning too much. It's easy to go along with things when you're a child, as he keeps pointing out, because children are so much more carefree and full of imagination. I miss that sometimes because you grow up and become full of responsibilities, stress and worriment- and you can't go back, but you can always try to remain as childish as you can.

I loved this book (if I haven't said that already) and if you have read it, let me know what you thought or maybe some of your favorite quotes! I got a few written down. If you haven't read it, then make sure to go and pick it up, I promise you will not regret it!

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