Saturday, 3 September 2016

The Ocean at the End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

Publish Date: June 18th 2013 
Publisher:  William Morrow Books 
Author: Neil Gaiman 
Website: Author’s Website 

            I wrote this months ago and then I couldn’t find my file. Don’t judge me.

            A grown man has returned to his childhood village and he visits the nearby farm he used to frequent. As he sits on a familiar bench in front of a pond, he remembers that the girl who lived there, Lettie, told him that it was an ocean. The memories that slipped away from the adult trickle back and he recalls the Hempstock farm, the cruelty of his family, and how an ocean can be anywhere, if you ask it nicely. 

Story and Fantasy Elements
            I had read this book last year, though I read it quickly and it honestly didn’t strike me as too special. I re-read it this year, much more slowly, and I took in more detail. I noticed more of the fantastical elements. This book has layers and layers to it, so I suggest that you don’t try to zoom through it too quickly just because you like to read a book a night or you really want to be a speed reader (or something).
            I really like the fantasy elements here. There’s no wand pointing and simple magic words. What happens with the Hempstocks is older and beyond human explanation, and they are also bound by laws and basically, the way it is done. What I mean is that they can’t bend the rules and do everything so it is convenient to the plot. 
            Something that I would love to research (but I lack the time between adventuring), is the Hempstock women and if they correlate to the mythos of the triple goddess, of the three stages of a woman’s life. What I am referring to is the tripartite concept of the maiden, the mother, and the crone. I would love to write an essay exploring if all of the Hempstock women on that farm are really the same entity in different points of time. If I were still in school I would definitely try to persuade a professor to let me do it!
            One more interesting aspect of this book was all the imagery of water. I think a neat essay could explore the water in terms of religion, along with whatever else might come up in the book that I missed. 

            The main character…doesn’t do much that affects the plot. He mostly reacts. For some people that’s infuriating. He is just a child, and a believable child mostly, but he’s mostly an observer. In The Golden Compass, Lyra has agency and does things, but the main protagonist of this book does not. 
            I loved the Hempstocks, and I immensely enjoyed Lettie’s plucky attitude. She would be an interesting character to include in an essay about that one character a lot of books have that just know how to get things done (like Hermione).   

Child Abuse Interpretation
            I read this just as a fantasy novel about a boy who got caught up in some affairs that he, as a regular human boy, was not supposed to be part of. Some ladies in my book club said, matter-of-factly, that it was a story of abuse. None of the fantasy and wonderment ever happened. Rather, it was just a coping measure for the protagonist to deal with the abuse of his parents. This is similar to the theory that Harry never went to Hogwarts and all the books are a fantasy to deal with the abuse. 
            Personally, I don’t subscribe to the abuse interpretations for either. However, it would make for some interesting essays, though I am sure it’s already been done before (I haven’t checked, but I assume). I’m sure your teacher or professor would be impressed if you brought it up in an essay though, just to show that you have read up on the book and other interpretations that they might not have taught.

            Although this doesn’t take away from my overall rating (5 stars on Goodreads), seriously, I am so tired of reading everyone’s full names in books over and over. Lettie Hempstock, Lettie Hempstock, Lettie Hempstock, Lettie Hempstock, Ursula Monkton, Lettie Hempstock, Lettie Hempstock, Ursula Monkton, Ursula Monkton, Lettie Hempstock, Ursula Monkton, Harry Potter, Lettie Hempstock…stop it. There is only one Lettie, only one Ursula, one Harry. Usually, no one thinks in terms of full names in their heads. You don’t look at your kid and think, Lexi Alsop looks bored, maybe we should go to the park. Or, Wow, Lexi Alsop takes up the entire bed. Stop, stop, stop, please, Neil Gaiman. 

Final Verdict
            It is a beautifully written novella. I recommend it to people who like fantasy without the medieval setting and without it being extravagant. This is the only Gaiman work I’ve read, so I don’t know how well it holds up to his other work. If a reader doesn’t like exploring subtexts or thinking too much into what they are reading, I would still recommend it. Just reading it “straight up” was an interesting ride. Not that I think this would happen too often because of Gaiman’s reputation, but it is not a children’s book, despite the young protagonist. Unless you want to explain the muted sex scene to your kid.