Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

No spoilers. I would NOT do that to you. 

It's a rare thing for me to fire up my computer at night. A rarer thing for me to write a review immediately upon finishing a book. The rarest thing to write a review late at night when I have to go to work the next day. All of these rarities are converging tonight because I've just finished a book that was so good, so utterly fulfilling, that if I don't write about it right now, I know I won't sleep well. Maybe not much at all. 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is one of those rare books that I want to re-read immediately as I turn the last page. In short, a new favorite is born! Neil Gaiman's latest book--a very short book at only 178 pages--is filled to brimming with heart and soul and warmth and terror. It's just an amazing book. 

From Goodreads: Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in 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.


You may have seen me gushing on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram about meeting Neil Gaiman on Monday night. While I would love to tell you about that event, it'll have to wait until tomorrow. My thoughts on this book simply cannot wait. 

First, you should know, I've never been an obsessed Neil Gaiman fan. I first read his work when I picked up American Gods years and years ago. Not long after its publication. While I was in love with the premise, I can't say that I enjoyed the book that much. The same thing with the first volume of Sandman. I found it a bit of a slog, in fact. It wasn't until I picked up Coraline, and later The Graveyard Book, that I really felt the magic in Neil Gaiman's writing. It's a warm, cocoony feeling. Of being enveloped. Of being a participant in a damn fine tale. 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane took my favorite things about my prior readings of Gaiman's work and perfectly encapsulated them in one concise, heartfelt story. At only 7 years of age, our nameless protagonist is someone I automatically pull for. Any child put through an adventure of terror and uncertainty has my heart. 

It was also the Hempstock women that captured my imagination. If the name sounds familiar, Gaiman wrote about Eliza Hempstock, the "witch" buried in the Potter's Field in The Graveyard Book, and in this novel we meet Old Mrs. Hempstock, Ginnie, and Lettie. And they were all stunning, wonderful, mysterious characters. 

This book is so hard to explain, and so hard to describe without giving much away. Just know that it's full of adventure, uncertainty, and magic. Myth and mystery. Perhaps what I love most about Gaiman's writing is that he makes the reader work for it. He lets his mysteries remain mysteries. There were times I'd read a page and wonder, "Do I even know what the hell he's saying?" It's not all served up on a silver platter. What are the Hempstock women? Where did they come from? How do they know all the things that they know? 

Not all of the questions are answered, for the protagonist, and certainly not for us. It's one of the many reasons I'll re-read this book in years to come and--hopefully--fall in love with it all over again. There will never be another chance to read it for the first time, but I hope to grow closer to it, learn more from it, become bosom friends with this book from now on. 

If you'd like some additional insight into this beautiful novel, read Neil Gaiman's wife's--Amanda Palmer's--review of the book and their marriage. There are no spoilers, and it's a stunning insight into Gaiman's most personal work to date. 


Pub Date: June 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780062255655
Source: Purchased by me. 

41 comments:

  1. I really love some of Gaiman's novels and some are meh. Generally I like his books for younger readers more. I will give Ocean a try since you love so much!

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    1. I hope you like it, Tasha! He did make the distinction at the reading that this is NOT a book for young readers. But I think it will appeal to those who enjoyed The Graveyard Book because of the crossover Hempstock family and the fact that the protagonist is a young boy. Awesome read.

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  2. Wow! I've never read any Gaiman, but after your post I'm thinking I need to and ASAP. I'm going to start with this one, because it just sounds so intriguing and now I'm wondering what the Hempstock women are. Great post, Andi!!

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    1. Nadia, you definitely do! Some have said they don't think readers should start with this one, but I don't see why not. It does a lot in a short space. The essay I posted from his wife gives lovely insight into the writing, too, so I'd definitely suggest reading it.

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  3. I've been kind of worried about this one because I didn't love American Gods either. Your enthusiasm has made me excited to read this!

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    1. I think it's imminently more readable and likable and well-written than American Gods.

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  4. I've never read Gaiman :( Why why why? He's a literary rock star and I don't know what I'm waiting for!!

    I'm looking forward to hearing about the event!

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    1. DUDETTE!!! You gotta fix that.

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    2. I'm in the same boat... would this book be a good one to start with? Or is there another title you'd recommend?

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  5. That's it. I'm reading this next.

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    1. YESSSS! Can't wait for your thoughts on it.

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  6. I haven't read any books by this author so far, but I'm interested in Stardust and now in this one, of course, because after reading your review, it's as if I need to read it!

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    1. I hope you enjoy it! I wasn't a huge fan of Stardust, but I'm considering going back and trying it again.

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  7. Whereas I'm someone who really loves American Gods, Neverwhere, Anansi Boys and so on, and while I enjoyed this, it's probably not my favourite. But I suppose that's the thing with Neil Gaiman novels. They're varied enough that they can suit a lot of different people.

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    1. Gotcha. That makes sense, Stu. But you're right...he writes a vast variety of things that appeal to so many. It was fun people watching in the crowd because so many different niches of people were represented -- ages, lifestyles, tastes.

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  8. Well, you've convinced me that I need to Gaiman another try. I read Coraline a few years ago, but it didn't "wow" me. This one sounds fantastic though.

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    1. *give* Gaiman another try, I meant. Oops! ;)

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    2. I'd recommend trying The Graveyard Book and this one for a taste of his best middle grade writing and great adult writing. Everyone says to read Neverwhere, so I'll be reading that one soon, too.

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  9. Yay, you loved it! Gaiman is hit and miss for me but the more reviews I read of this one, the more I'm convinced that I would really like it.

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    1. I hope you decide to try it, Sam!

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  10. Ughhhhhh I can't WAIT to read this one! And your review only makes my desire worse! :) Plus, I can't wait to hear about the Gaiman event you went to. When I got home from vacation I found out he was in town while I was gone, and I nearly died. What a thing to miss!

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    1. Yayyy! I'm glad to enable, Kelly! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Sorry you didn't get to attend the Gaiman event in your area!

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  11. I have to tell you, the best part of this post was knowing that you weren't sold on American Gods. I've enjoyed a lot of Gaiman's YA and children's fiction, but AG is the only adult thing by him I've read and I was just so bored when I read it. It didn't work for me. I have Ocean at home right now, and I'm really hoping I'll also completely fall in love with it!

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    1. I thought some people might really appreciate that tidbit, Amanda! I'm glad you did. Many people are such die-hard fans, they would like anything he writes. But I really just don't!!! But this one was stellar.

      Here's hoping you like Ocean!

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  12. Thank you so much for the No Spoilers! (My book review pet peeve) Was it a super scary book??? I am so curious and have heard rave reviews, but I do not like really dark and scary books. Having said that I've really enjoyed Under the Dome by Stephen King (not typical horror).

    Also, luv LUV your Dallas accent in the video clip. I'm from Dallas too. :)

    Sarah @WordHits

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    1. You are welcome!!! I would hate to ruin this book for anyone. It's such a great ride.

      This one isn't terribly dark and scary. It really rides a line between YA and adult writing, I think. There are some things that make it darker than YA but it's not full-on horror or gore by any means.

      And did I know you're from Dallas, Sarah??? I can't remember. But I'm always thrilled to meet another Texan -- especially a Dallasite!

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    2. I grew up in Dallas and I do miss TX!!! I still root hard for my Cowboys (tho I am not too pleased with Tony ... or Jerry right now!). I was so excited to discover A Real Bookstore via Readathon ... but it was closed. :( No really good indie bookstore in Dallas anymore is there?

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    3. No, there really isn't a good indie around anymore that I know of. It's so sad. I was terribly attached to A Real Bookstore and attended book club there. Luckily, we've been able to carry on our book club outside of the store, but we sure do miss it.

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  13. Well, after reading your recap of meeting Gaiman, your book review and Amanda Palmer's exquisite blog post, this baby is locked and loaded in my Amazon cart! Can't wait to read it. Lovely words -- and how could I ignore this one while knowing you couldn't sleep until you'd reviewed it?!

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    1. SWEET! I hope you love it as much as I did!

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  14. I love it when a book leaves you feeling so excited you just want to tell everyone about it! I'm looking forward to reading this book!

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    1. I'm on a roll, too. I felt the same way when I finished The Crimson Petal and the White yesterday. I can never get enough of that urgent feeling!

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  15. The reviews have been so glowing, I am afraid I'm getting my hopes too high for this book! It's just been so LONG since I had a new Neil Gaiman book to read -- which seems insane because he's constantly Doing Things -- and I want it to be wonderful, which I guess makes me afraid it won't be.

    What is it the most like do you think? Of Neil Gaiman's books, which one is most like The Ocean at the End of the Lane?

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    1. Don't let the hype monster get ya! It had been a really long time since I'd read any of his stuff too, so there's hope for you, my friend!

      I think it's like a grittier, more sophisticated Graveyard Book. But my experience is extremely limited with his adult writing. I'm planning to remedy that today!

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  16. I really want to read this! Thanks for the review.

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  17. I have to admit, I've never read anything by Neil Gaiman but I have been reading and hearing a lot about him lately. It seems like a lot of people have fallen completely head over heels for this book. I'm hoping to add it to my end of the summer reading list so I can get it read before I head back to school and lose some of my focus and will to read.

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    1. This one is just lovely. It's a quick book. Perfect for summer!

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  18. Even though I already planned to read Gaiman's latest, that post by Amanda Palmer pushed me over the edge. Holy cow. I'm giving it to my husband for our anniversary - but it's killing me not to read it right now!!

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  19. Oh, thank you for linking to Amanda Palmer's post! I admit to surprise that those two have ever had a rocky time - as she says, they really ARE disgustingly affectionate on Twitter ;-) What a beautiful review - hers and yours!

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  20. I know just how you felt!

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