Monday, July 22, 2013

Book 74: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I have kind of been putting off writing this review because it's Neil Gaiman and I liked the novel, but I wanted more.  I admit I didn't read too much about the novel before ordering it because the words "fairy tale" and "new adult novel" were enough to get me excited.  I have never really been much of a short story person or a graphic novel person, so there is actually quite a bit of Gaiman's work that I haven't yet read.  I admit my first reaction to this novel upon opening my Amazon package was disappointment: "but it's so small!"  I wanted to be immersed in Gaiman's world for hours and hours, not an afternoon.
As many other reviewers have already noted, this novel feels the most personal and intimate of all his works.  After his father's funeral, the narrator finds himself driving around in his old neighborhood, and visiting a family he befriended one summer when he was 7.  As he sits in their backyard gazing at their pond, he slowly remembers the events of that summer, though only a few hours ago all these memories had been buried and fuzzy.  After the narrator's family's newest boarder kills himself, his death seems to awaken an ancient being or spirit, and the young narrator becomes involved in this due to his developing friendship with Lettie Hempstock, a mysterious 11 year old who lives with her mother and grandmother.
I enjoyed the allusions to some much greater mystical background regarding the Hempstock family.  The first thing that came to mind for me were the three witches from MacBeth for some odd reason, but I definitely got the idea that they have been around forever, and I felt like I should have recognized what figures from mythology Gaiman may have been referring to.  Unfortunately I think I'm a little lost when it comes to Celtic figures (I assume; really I'm out of my depth with anything not involving ancient Greeks or Romans).  So I really loved the idea that this was all part of something bigger and greater, and for the most part I'm fine without answers, but then there is the other part of me that wanted more, and wanted the connections, and just wanted more story.
I think the other issue is that since it was marketed as Gaiman's first adult novel since Anansi Boys, I had a certain idea in my head of what I was expecting.  Do I think this is a novel adults will enjoy?  Absolutely.  However, I think it is very much a novel for all readers and I think that would have led to slightly different expectations on my part.  Basically, I definitely enjoyed the novel and it was magical and fantastical, but I don't think it fits in quite with his other adult novels, and is perhaps more comparable to some of this other works for younger readers as far as the content and the structure while still being for adults.  Even when I say I wanted more, I realize that in other ways the story was perfect the way it was, and I couldn't imagine actually changing it.

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