It’s been a very long time since I finished a book, put it down, and said, “wow.”
My relationship with Ocean at the End of the Lane started last September when I was able to go see Neil Gaiman speak at George Mason University’s “Fall for the Book.” I got to hear him read a chapter, and was almost instantly sucked into the story of this unnamed 7 year old and the strange things going on around his house. And that was just one chapter, so when I picked up the book the only thing I could hope for was that it would live up to my expectations. It managed to exceed each one.
Neil Gaiman is known for his... let’s just say “weird” writing. I mean, I love the man, but go back and look at some of what he’s written. There’s the end of the world, the personification of dreams, talking cats, evil women with button eyes, talking stars (the shiny ones, not the Brad Pitt ones), talking televisions that impersonate Lucille Ball, and two very memorable episodes of Dr. Who. And that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. So going into the book, I knew that I’d be up for some strange things, but I wasn’t expecting the emotional punch to the gut that this book would hold. That’s not to say that I wasn’t affected emotionally by his other books, just that I wasn’t expecting the way this book would affect me.
Oh, right, the plot. I should probably get to that. There’s this unnamed, lonely 7 year old who lives down the lane from this family named the Hempstocks, a group of very strange women who may or may not be magical. He befriends the 11 year old Lettie Hempstock who may or may not be older than 11 and claims that the duck pond was in fact, an ocean. Strange things start happening after a boarder who lives in the house kills himself, and the Hempstock women may be the only people who can stop it.
What I loved about this book was how much it reminded me of pure, unadulterated childhood. I threw in a reminder about how strange Neil Gaiman can be simply because I felt important to point out that he works in the realm of fantasy and science fiction. Let’s face it, we’ve all put on capes or pretended we’re space heroes saving the day when we were kids. But this book, especially the way it plays with memory... it’s something that could have happened but it’s also entirely possible that it all existed in the mind of this child, friendless and just looking for an outlet.
I may be reading too much into it. But that’s sort of the way things are with books that we love, sometimes we find more meaning than we originally think when we start really digging. In this case, I found a unique meaning that I loved, that whether or not it’s true or not it holds a truth for me. And that’s part of the book, finding truth. It’s about the sheer belief that being a child holds. It’s about faith. And it’s possibly about evil magic.
I’m not making any sense. I could go back and sense that last paragraph up a little bit, but it’s my blog, and I think that was important little working of things out for me. I wanted to try to capture how much reading this book reminded me of childhood. It reminded me of the time when anything was possible, and you accepted it because at that time you didn't realize it wasn't possible for good witches to battle evil things. You didn't "know better." It's back when life was a better, simpler time.
You know, I could write eight pages on how I felt about this book. This is one of those books that I could analyze and it and break it apart. But I can’t do that. What I can do is say this: Go read the book. You’re going to enjoy it.