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. 

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