Thursday, 27 June 2013

#CBR5 Book 65. "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman

Page count: 181 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Our unnamed narrator returns to the old farm near his childhood home after a funeral in Sussex. He remembers his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock, who lived in the old farmhouse, at the end of the lane near his house, and while looking out over the pond in the back (which Lettie claimed was an ocean), he slowly remembers the strange and horrifying events of his childhood, after one of his parents' lodgers stole their car and killed himself, not far from the house. There are dark and inexplicable consequences, and the three generations of Hempstock women help our narrator try to set things to rights.

This is Neil Gaiman's first book for adults since Anansi Boys in 2005. As that book is probably my least favourite of all his works, with the notable exception of Marvel 1602 and Eternals (which were so boring I don't even have the words), I was hoping that the excellent writing in his books for children and young adults would carry through to this story as well. I had very high expectations, because for all that I think his shorter fiction (comic book issues, short stories) is what he does best, it was just so unexpected and exciting to discover, early this year, that he had a new book out. Of course, this dark fable is a sliver of a book compared to, for instance American Gods. It's much more like Coraline, both in size and tone.

If you like Neil Gaiman, and you've read things by him before, you will recognise a lot of different things in this book. There's a child protagonist, there's really creeping and effective horror, there's a wealth of mythology and magical realism and the locations are so faithfully rendered that you feel as if you're in the story. I also think, as confirmed by the author himself, and his wife, Amanda Palmer, that it's his most personal book yet. It's thoughtful, and magical and creepy as hell, and I absolutely loved every last page of it, so much so that I also used one of my Audible credits to get the audio book as well. That way I was able to have Neil Gaiman read me parts of the story, with his wonderfully soothing voice, which came in very handy when I had to clean my office at work, and really only wanted to read. If you're not a fan of Gaiman, this book is likely to convert you. If you are a fan, you need to read this book. It's wonderful, in every sense of the word.

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