The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
I hardly know what to say about this magical, yet creepy, little book. In some ways, it was everything I hoped it would be. For certain, I couldn’t put it down once I started reading. In other ways, I found it disturbing and, in part, a bit unsatisfactory. NOTE: POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!
My biggest problem is that the ending of The Ocean at the End of the Lane felt unfinished to me, but then I find endings where the hero of the book forgets everything that has happened to him to be as big a cop-out as the ones where the entire story turns out to be a dream. It just doesn’t cut it. It smacks of not really knowing how you want to wrap things up. I realize saying this might be a sacrilege to my fellow Gaiman fans, and I apologize for that. I was completely fascinated by the story, and many things were done very well. But the ending . . . sorry. Not so much so.
I was also flummoxed as to why this book was touted as being an “adult” book, rather than geared toward younger readers. I honestly didn’t think it felt any more adult-like than any of the other Gaiman books I’ve read, to date. But for me, this is not a bad thing, necessarily. I have been quite charmed by several of his books aimed at younger readers.
On the plus side, I love stories told from a child’s perspective, and this was no exception. I found the young boy at the heart of the tale to be charming and clever, even if extremely precocious for a seven-year old. He had me from the birthday party that no one showed up for. I loved all the mystery and magic of the world he uncovered, and his observations of unfolding events were droll and wise. He was plucky and brave, in spite of his inner fear, and possessed all of the elements I enjoy in a central character.
I also truly enjoyed the Hempstock women who lived in the house at the end of the lane, in front of the ocean of the book’s title. Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother were remarkable characters. What I don’t understand is why none of the many reviews I read after I finished the book mentioned the most obvious thing about them, namely, that they seemed to represent the Wiccan tradition of the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. I expected to read a lot of comments adressing that, but saw none. Curious.
These powerful women also seemed to have elements reaching even farther back into mythology to the three Fates. Clotho, the spinner, who spins the thread of life; Lachesis, the measurer, who chooses the lot in life one will have, and measures off how long it is to be; and Atropos, who uses her shears to cut the thread of life when it is time for one’s death. Maybe it’s just me, but I certainly saw elements of both the Wiccan figures and the Fates in those mysterious Hempstock women. But of course, we each get something different out of every book we read.
In spite of the things I was less than satisfied with, overall, the story was haunting, beautiful, and compelling, and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is a fan of fantasy or magic. Neil Gaiman readers should love it. I did, even while wanting more from the ending. But as always, don’t take my word for any of this. Read it yourself and see what you think.
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