Monday, July 8, 2013

"Adults follow paths. Children explore."

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman:  A man in his 40s returns to the neighborhood he lived in when he was a child and starts to remember something and someone important.

He met her when he was 7-years-old at the end of the lane.  She showed him a pond on her farm and told him it was an ocean.

If you follow me on twitter, you know that I love Neil Gaiman.  I talk about him and his books often. You are probably thinking that because of that I could not be objective in reading this novel and preparing a review.  Au contraire mon frere.   

This is the first novel he has written in some time so I was wary of it.  I went into this with no expectations.  I had a 50/50 chance of either liking it or disliking it.  

The end result of my reading was positive. When I read the first few chapters, something struck me right away.  This novel had the same feel as Gaiman's other novels.  A spark of something that is so intrinsically his could be found in the writing, and it was nice to see that that had not changed. This leads me to my first point of like.

The descriptions of events, people, thoughts and feelings were amazing.  Through careful language, Gaiman builds up an image for you that is incredible.  The flea's various descriptions were pretty awesome so much so that I felt like I knew what it sounded like. The scary moments, of which there are a good few, were truly terrifying and it is all thanks to the way it was written.  It was also interesting that what scared me was a mix of the human and the fantastic.  

I really liked the boy character and the man he grew up to be.  It was interesting to sort of see them side by side continually throughout the book.   In this novel you get to hear the boy's voice come out but also see the introspection added to an event by the adult version of him.  A lot of Gaiman's ideas about childhood and adulthood are interesting and he definitely tackles them here.  A lot of people won't agree with him, but I think there is some uncomfortable truth to what he presents.

The book's pacing is great.  It was not slow or bogged down with filler or fluff.  It is the perfect length.  It tells as much as it needs to and not much more.

I do not quite know how to label this book.  I think it has a lot to offer for dual audiences (children and adult) but there are some things that make it more of a book for older audiences.  

I have heard the term "fairy tale" attached to this novel but is it one?  A fairy tale straddles the line between folk tale (stories passed by word of mouth) and the literary tale (something written by an author) (Hallet & Karasek, 2009, p. 18).  Fairy tales are a mix of old and new (Hallet & Karasek, 2009, p. 18).

This is what I was taught so it would be interesting to see why this story is being labelled as a fairy tale when I cannot see the influences of any earlier folk tales.  This is just me, of course.  Maybe others have seen the nods to older stories that I have completely missed.  Or maybe the definition of the fairy tale has evolved without my notice. Either way, I welcome discussion.

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I have included a little video of Mr. Gaiman reading a little bit from this book.  Hearing him read is exciting and an experience all on its own so do check it out.

If you would like to read another review with much more authority and weight than I carry, here's the review by Benjamin Percy at The New York Times.

Gaiman, N. (2013). The Ocean at the End of the Lane. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Hallet, M. & Karasek, B. (Eds.). (2009). Folk & Fairy Tales. Peterborough, ONT: Broadview Press.

1 comment:

  1. I read your review and I really like the fairy tale element of the story. Gotta add this to my TBR! :)