Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

It's been a long time since I posted an entry here.  2013 was not a particularly easy year, and I won't go into details.  I haven't read as much as I would have liked either, partly because my focus has been on my dissertation. (I should graduate in May, and oh, how I am looking forward to reading whatever I want!)

Today, though, before work and school and responsibilities come back crashing down tomorrow, I decided I was going to use my Amazon gift certificate and read today. 

I've written before about how certain books take up residence in your soul and never quite leave you.  They may not be your favorite books, but they are most definitely the books that you remember--the books that remind you of just how powerfully evocative storytelling can be.  Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of those books. 

I've never been much of a Gaiman fan, to be honest.  American Gods gave me nightmares.  My fannish nature for Gaiman has been for him more as a person than as a writer, but my friends assured me that The Ocean at the End of the Lane was different from his previous books, more of a fairy tale.  It seems to me that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is to American Gods as M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water is to Signs

I read somewhere that Gaiman wrote this book first, as a short story that grew out of control, and then second, as a book to explain himself to his wife, Amanda.  It's the second part that I think is so notable and that makes this book so stunning.  In the midst of a fairy tale, in a skirmish against things of darkness, it is intensely personal.  Everything is deeply real, filled with memory, either real or imagined.  This is not the story of Wendy remembering NeverNever Land, or Peter and Susan remembering Narnia.  This is the story of a man who experiences enforced amnesia, except at certain points when he revisits the ocean at the end of the lane and everything comes flooding back in a rush of overwhelming sensations and memories, only for it to disappear when he leaves, so much like the painful memories we all experience and suppress that still get dragged out periodically into daylight.

To read The Ocean at the End of the Lane is, I think, to understand Neil Gaiman, the person, on some small fundamental level.  What it tells the reader about themselves is going to be more personal.  But I think, like all of these books that I've read that have stayed with me so deeply throughout the years, each time I reread it, I'm going to learn a little bit more.

Overall grade: A

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