The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
The Ocean at the End of the Land straddles the line of magical realism and fantasy, in my opinion. There is a good dose of reality, and did that really happen mixed in with some very visually stunning imagery. It's also quite sober and heartbreaking in a subtle, literary fashion.
I think there is a reason that adults continue to read stories with children as the main characters. We never truly detach or divorce ourselves from our child selves. It's therapeutic to look back at that time through the viewpoint of a child character in books and to work through the issues from our own childhood.
That is why I did connect very well with the narrator of this book. I remember vivid the powerful mix of fear, curiosity, joy and the intensely visceral assimilation of all sensations from my childhood.
Also in some of the bittersweet experiences that the narrator has. Not in a small way, our parents are godlike figures to us. They live on pedestals and glimmer like gold, until they don't. Until something reveals their feet of clay. However, even as children, we want to keep believing in the purity of their perfection, because we can't not believe. That dose of reality finally takes effect as we near adulthood, if we're fortunate enough to hold on to that innocent view of our parents until then..
I felt the pain of this young boy as his family is nearly torn to shreds by the arrival of a very old, very cruel force. I felt his uncomfortable situation of being the only one in his family who sees through her seemingly benign facade. At the same time, I felt great comfort in knowing that Hattie and her family are there to protect and even coddle him, when his own family fails. I loved the way they take him in and feed him delicious, satisfying food that made my mouth water as I read this book.
I like that we don't quite get all the answers for who Hattie and her family are. We just know that they are old, very old, and they have enormous power. However, they are not invulnerable.
Gaiman succeeds as he typically does in tempering the truly sinister with the sweet comfort of the familiar and childlike. He knows how to use just the right phrasing to convey this duality in his storytelling. Even though this is an adult book, I feel that it speaks to the young girl in me.
I can't say much more about this book because my mind is not very clear right now, and I read this last week (and there have been some busy days for me), but I can say that this was an enjoyable reading experience. It accomplishes much in the short span of pages, and leaves this reader with even more to ponder and to ruminate on.
This is the first book by Gaiman I've read in print. I've been getting his narrated audiobooks from the library (and enjoying them tremendously). His writing stands up to both media formats, but I have a feeling that I will probably get this to listen to as well, because I love his soothing voice and the manner in which he uses that voice to better illustrate his words on the page for an auditory experience.
Definitely a 4.5/5.0 star read for me.
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