A Review of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

This is apparently my 55th review on this blog. I probably should have made a bigger deal of #50, but I wasn’t paying attention and it slipped past unnoticed. (It was “Lost Lake” by Sarah Addison Allen, in case you were wondering.)

I have procrastinated in writing this review. I wanted to like this book more than I did, because I like Neil Gaiman.

Actually, I think Neil Gaiman is a really excellent specimen of a human being, a great author, a very creative mind. He’s good people.

That’s why I feel uncomfortable saying that I was not entirely impressed by this book.

cover art image courtesy of goodreads.com

There’s nothing wrong with “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.”  I enjoyed a lot of the elements, but together, they just didn’t make a final product that satisfied me.

This book confused me. The narration comes from a man at two different stages of his life-in his forties, and at seven. When the younger self is narrating, it isn’t fully the perspective of a child that the reader is given. There is more maturity than one would get from a little boy, so it would seem to be the adult’s memories of the child’s experiences.

To be honest, whether or not the adult truly remembers the events from his childhood is perplexing. His memory is unreliable, and that complicated the story for me. Perhaps that was intentional. It was certainly interesting.

When tragedy struck in the boy’s life, he discovered that there was more to the world than he had previously been aware of. He became acquainted with a family living down the street from him, three generations of women, who seemed to have supernatural characteristics and abilities.

The events following the tragedy became intense quite quickly, and there was clearly magic afoot, but the rules and boundaries of the universe Mr. Gaiman has created in this story are unclear.

An otherworldly force broke free of its holds and introduced itself into the boy’s life as a human woman, and only he and the neighboring family of Hempstock women, the youngest of which is an 11-year-old named Lettie, were aware that the woman was not what she was representing herself as.

The woman who wasn’t human called herself Ursula and managed to get herself installed into the boy’s family as a babysitter/nanny for him and his sister. He knew she was a threat, and he was terrified of her as she began to take over various parts of his life, including seducing his father.

This book is difficult to review. I am having a difficult time describing the plot, because I never felt entirely certain of what was going on.

It’s possible that the confusion was carefully crafted by the author, given the fact that the narrator was seven years old and frightened, unable to understand the full scope of the situation he was in.

I didn’t find it to be a successfully told story, either way. As I said before, the narration did not seem to be the authentic voice of a 7-year-old, but neither did it seem to come from a fully-grown man in his forties.

Sometimes a book with a child narrator is structured in such a way as to give the reader more information about events and circumstances than the narrator himself has, and I think that would have been helpful in this case.

For me, not being able to piece together what was or was not possible in the world of this book was frustrating, rather than mysterious and intriguing.

This is a complaint that I have made about other fantasy books — I want the author to make the rules clear. If there is magic, I want to know how it works, who can use it, why it’s there.

According to the acknowledgements at the end of the book, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” was originally intended to be a short story. That makes sense to me. It has more of a short story feel than a novel, but in gaining length, it wandered into a fuzzy in-between territory that felt awkward.

I think this book needed expansion. There was nothing about it that I actually disliked, but there were pieces missing, pieces that I felt were needed to make a coherent picture. I wanted more than what was there.

I wanted to get to know the Hempstock women better. I wanted to better understand the parallel worlds that seemed to exist, and the creatures that had the ability to cross the boundaries.

I felt teased by elements that hinted of a very good story that was slightly out of reach. I felt unfulfilled.

I feel bad about writing an unfavorable review simply because I wanted more of what was already there.

I wish I could have written a better review, one with a little more clarity, but I did the best I could with such muddled feelings about the book.

I can say with certainty that I will be reading more from Mr. Gaiman, because even though this particular story didn’t work for me, I think he is talented and intelligent, and I am interested in what else he has to offer.

 

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About Elizabeth M. Lee

I am a compulsive reader, an emerging writer, a musician, an artist, a feminist, and an enthusiastic home cook. My husband and I follow a vegan diet and lifestyle, try to live low-impact, and enjoy a simple life.
This entry was posted in book review, fiction and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Review of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

  1. Reblogged this on elizabethly and commented:

    Here’s my latest book review from my other blog:

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