The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
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.
This book was set up to fail in my eyes. My expectations were set way too high. Gaiman has been recommended to me by bloggers I respect, by strangers on the internet, by book store staff. I read early reviews that proclaimed this the best book that every booked, and I believed them. There was no way the experience of reading these 180 pages could live up to the hype. Especially once I realized that I read a book earlier this year that does everything this book tries to do, only better.
The plot weaves together fairytale, myth, and memory. The unnamed protagonist returns to his childhood home and remembers a number of supernatural occurrences. I am not sure whether the memories are repressed, fabricated or exaggerated. Maybe that was on purpose, maybe not, but I finished the book not really “getting” it, certainly not getting it in the way that other readers got it – no life changing experience, no profound feelings.
The female characters rubbed me the wrong way, too. We’ve got the bad ones: absentee working mother, evil seductress nanny; and the good ones, the magical ladies at the end of the lane, who act as substitute mothers, with much laundry-doing and baking (and monster fighting too, to be fair.) This working mom doesn’t appreciate the implication. I didn’t get a sense of why any of these women act the way they do, either. Why is mom not around? Why is the nanny/monster so evil? Why are the women the protectors of the little boy, and who else do they protect? Where do their powers come from? I think the three women might represent the Fates… or something? It was all a bit muddled and in 180 pages, there’s not much room to clarify.
I’ll try some more Gaiman. I have a feeling this wasn’t the right place to start. For my money, if you want to read a short, lyrical story about memory and childhood and magic, read The Cat’s Table. That one’s life changing. This one? There was no need for me to buy this in hardcover, apart from the beautiful cover art. Borrow it from the library.
Hmm. I’ve heard only good things about this one before your review. Perhaps since I’ve never read any Gaiman before, I’ll start somewhere else. Great review Laura!
I haven’t read any bad reviews either. I think some balance was needed 🙂 I think American Gods is a better one to start with.
I liked American Gods very much — in fact, I’m sort of regretting send it on to my brother. I’m still planning on reading this one, but I’ll take your advice and get it out of the library first.
I think that’s the one I should have read first!
You ever read those reviews where someone dislikes a book to the point where it makes you WANT to read it? 😀
The fact that you’re going against the grain is a good thing, for me. Makes me interested in a weird way.
I could have said good things, but everyone else already did. I mean, the average rating on Goodreads is 4.19, which is on par with A Prayer for Owen Meany and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, to which I say, hell no. It’s just not on the same level as those books.
I went and read the synopsis for American Gods and now I really want to read that!
I’d really like you to read American Gods so I can see what you think of it! It’s the only Gaiman I’ve read and I just did not “get it”. I don’t know if it was my lack of a background in mythology or what. And I probably would have had a tough time finishing it if it hadn’t been a book club book. Now I really have no desire to try any of his other works.
Well I put AG on the list, but it’s not exactly high priority. I’ll get to it one day!
American Gods and Neverwhere rock. You’ll love/like them, for sure.
Thank you for the honest review. I was really worried that the hype monster got to this one, and you have confirmed my fears. I will borrow it from the library when I’m ready to read it.
I chose not to rate this one. I usually love Gaiman’s stuff (I’ve given away countless copies of Sandman, American Gods and Good Omens), but this one didn’t do much for me. The writing was pretty in a very superficial way.
I’ve never read any of Neil Gaiman’s books, but you can’t seem to be on Twitter or blogs or the internet without his name popping up lately. I wondered what the hype was about, so it was interesting to read your review.
So I still haven’t read this one, so I haven’t read your review, but I’m sad that you didn’t like it more! I do have high hopes for it, so who knows! I’ve always loved Neil, so maybe I’m just biased. 🙂
I did like it, actually. It just didn’t meet my sky-high expectations. Would have been 3 stars, easily, had it been an unknown author.
The indirect sequel to American Gods, Anansi Boys is even better.