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Book #50: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I've never read anything on Neil Gaiman's before. Honestly, I used to say that I really liked Sci-Fi/Fantasy, but it'd never read "high" Sci-Fi/Fantasy. It was always Harry Potter and fan fiction. It wasn't until a couple years ago that I got into LoTR and other novels. At the beginning of the summer, I set off on a quest to find some acclaimed authors in the above-mentioned genre and I came across George R.R. Martin and Neil Gaiman. As you already know, I've started reading Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series and so I took it upon myself to read something of Gaiman's. I purchased Neverwhere first, and then Stardust, but I hadn't gotten around to reading them. When I saw the hype centering around Gaiman's newly released work The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I waited impatiently, then ran to Barnes and Nobel that day and bought it. I finished it a day later. It's been a day and a half since I finished it, and I'm not exactly sure what to think.

Inside Front Flap:

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral.  Although the house he lived is is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie - magical, comforting, wise beyond her years - promised to protect him, no matter what.
A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

My Review:

Even after rereading and typing out the synopsis and short review provided in the book, I'm still not sure what to think. Many parts seem very cut-and-dried. What happened happened. There's nothing else to it. However, there are a great deal of parts that are left hanging open. We get the story through an unreliable narrator, who doesn't realize that he's unreliable. Because he's not supposed to remember, pieces of the story are literally snipped out (you'll understand why once reading the book), and because he's remembering the events through a seven-year-old's eyes, we only know a seven-year-old's thoughts and feelings on the matter. He's unable to understand and come to terms with the abstract, the areas of grey, left by the events that occurred when he was just a little boy. Because of this, the reader can make guesses as to what really happened, and why. The magic of the Hempstock's world is never laid out. The reader only knows the short and ofttimes mysterious remarks of Lettie Hempstock and her mother and grandmother. In some cases, their responses to the narrator open up even more questions that remain unanswered.

I guess this feeds into the idea that what you don't know can't hurt you. After reading this novel, I beg to differ. Just because the narrator couldn't deal with remembering the terrifying events of his youth when he was still youthful, does not mean that he cannot cope and understand now. This leads to the questions: What are the Hempstocks hiding? Who are they, really? Why are they on earth, acting as humans? If only I could submerge myself and Lettie's ocean and know everything, just for a short while.

I think this is what it means to be human. We can't possibly know everything for certain. We're left to decode and decifer written messages, body language, voice mails, texts, emails, comments, etc. without truly understanding what the other person is saying based on their own experiences. We all lead different lives. Even if you have a twin, it's a garauntee that the other hasn't experienced all the same things in exactly the same way. I suppose this is what was meant when it says, "The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human."

Many say that Neil Gaiman is an "odd" author. He writes simple books that seem to have no meaning until you think and think and think. I think I understand Gaiman's "lesson" that is hidden in the depths of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but maybe if I think on it some more, I'll understand more. Maybe as I experience new things, new meanings will come from the text.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Kelly <3



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