May 052014
 

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Ocean at the End of the Lane is a deeply engrossing tale from Neil Gaiman, very much in line with his previous works while also doing some new things. This really isn’t much of a novel, more of a novella/novel mix, but for that I was quite impressed at the depth he managed to achieve in such a short book. I definitely wish it could have been longer, so as to get a bit more on some of the secondary characters, but as it is a stylistic choice it’s pretty hard to fault that.

This story is told from the perspective of a child, and one of my favorite things about it is how well I think Gaiman managed to capture that and present events as a child might see them. After seeing and hearing some of the things he does through the course of the story, an adult very well would be inclined to try to find the trick, or dismiss it as false. He pretty blindly trusts in those he sees as authority figures (which , during the story, moves away from his parents and toward the Hempstocks). There is also the scene where his father sexes up the creepy Ursula. The narrator is attempting to escape her at the time, and witnesses the act, but very little thought is actually given to this act, which leaves of course a much greater significance with the reader.

Mystie brought this up as well, but one of the themes I found very interesting was the concept of the maiden, mother, and crone represented by the Hempstocks. Gaiman flipped this on itss head a bit, as generally this is a sad reference to the reproductive state of women. Gaiman takes this concept and makes it something more substantive and really centers his book around it. Gaiman is a master at this sort of mythology, as he loves to take what is a standard myth and twist it just enough to make it modern while still carrying the same meaning as it’s original. Mystie will probably expand a bit on this as well, but what happened to the “male” Hempstocks? Who are they?

This also ties in well with Lettie sacrificing herself for the narrator at the end, and how long she recovers, as he never “meets” her again in any corporeal form. The idea of “stealing” a death is pretty strong in many mythologies, and it’s a very interesting and strong concept here. What costs were truly incurred? Did she trade his life for her ability to manifest as a “human?” Will Letty only be able to return once the narrator has passed away? What kind of things might have been prevented if she was still alive?

This is a pretty important part to the ending, which while I loved most all of this book, the ending was my favorite (happens a lot with Gaiman’s books). Not only the intriguing ideas with Lettie saving his life, but with the fact that the narrator constantly returns to the farm through his life. His reason for coming back at the beginning was due to a funeral for a family member, but it’s never revealed who it is. Could be for a couple reasons, but I really think at this point that events just tend to align in his life to bring him back to the farm. The funeral at this point is secondary, even though it is obviously a major point in his life. Furthermore, it has happened several times, where some unknown event brings him back to the farm. Is Lettie’s control so great (and subtle)?

He forgets quite shortly about these events leading up to the end of his visit, as he has at each of his last meetings. Is this something the Hempstocks are doing to protect him? Is it due to his heart healing? How much does it point to events that we ourselves forget about our childhood experiences? It’s an interesting idea, and points out just how fleeting, and yet important, memories are.

For my review, I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

– Ben

 

Our latest choice in “The League of Books” was Neil Gaiman’s latest adult novel, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”. I had heard a lot of positive commentary about the novel on the interwebs, but I knew very little of the actual story going in.

When the novel starts, our protagonist is a middle-aged man traveling between a funeral of someone close to him and the reception afterwards. He finds himself being drawn to this little farmhouse at the end of the lane that he grew up on. As he travels down the lane, he notes a few areas of events that were significant to him during his childhood, but he cannot seem to recall the importance of this farmhouse. It seems to be flitting around the edges of his brain, despite the fact that he is obviously drawn there. Once there, the memories flit closer and closer until he walks around back and is confronted by Lettie Hempstock’s “ocean”- then his brain opens up and dumps him into the year that he was 8.

The majority of the book is told from the perspective of our protagonist as a young child. I agree with Ben that Gaiman’s writing of a child protagonist is both believable and refreshing. There are certain truths that the child brain accepts that an adult brain would have trouble accepting and therefore be a very different type of protagonist. When confronted with a “magic” family that seems to be immortal, our narrator befriends them instantly. And when he asks Lettie, the youngest member of this family, how old she is and how long she has been that age, he accepts her answers readily, though they are not actual answers.

There is a lot of Ocean at the End of the Lane that is left unexplained, and though it is difficult when you wouldn’t mind a longer novel, Gaiman threads the line that enough is explained that the story is completely understandable and enough it left to your imagination that each person’s reading of the novel is slightly different. One of the main things left unexplained was the origin of the Hempstocks. When we meet them, there are three: a grandmother, a mother and a young girl. They mention that there were male Hempstocks, but they left to travel the world and there are members of their bloodline living all over. The imagery of the Hempstocks brought to mind The Fates to me: the old crone, the mother and the maiden. Therefore, for most the novel, I felt that the Hempstock’s were Gaiman’s version of the keepers of destiny and they worked to make sure that nothing from their “old world” bothered the humans in their new one. This theory fit with the climax that Lettie was able to change our narrator’s destiny, but had to replace it with her own and, I believe, that she will not be able to return until the death of our narrator.

The end of the novel raised almost more questions than it answered, which lends itself well to discussions among friends; Ben and I had a good time debating certain points. However, I agreed with a lot of what Gaiman did. The narrator had to forget to live a “normal” life but he can’t forget how important they were to him.

But, make sure to read this and discuss it with your friends. Why does the narrator forget every time he visits? How do you feel about Gaiman never mentioning whose funeral is it? Who do you think the Hempstocks really are? What exactly are the “fleas”?

Overall, I would give this book 4/5 stars.

–Mystie