Friday, 17 January 2014

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman has this uncanny ability to make the strange familiar, and to draw on the familiar and make it something unearthly. The weaving together of recognizable life with unmistakable magic is enthralling, and here, in this book about returning to the source, to childhood, to memories long and perhaps best forgotten, he weaves another spell that has some of the creepiness of Coraline, but with a more adult tinge.

This is about children, again, though. The narrator has grown, but as he returns to his parents home for a funeral, memories he had forgotten since the last time he went to his source well up again, and he remembers being a very small boy, and the chain of events that beings with the suicide of a boarder. As a result, he meets the Hempstock women, all three of them, maiden, mother, and crone. They feel like home at a time his own home is becoming increasingly strange.

But they are not, perhaps, part of the everyday world. The suicide has let something dangerous loose in the world, and the boy goes with Lettie, the youngest of the Hempstocks to bind again what is loose. He lets go of her hand, though, at a critical moment, and in that moment, something comes back with him.

That's all I'll tell of the plot, but it is marvellous the way Gaiman takes very mundane concerns like money woes, the attraction of a parent to someone not their spouse, sibling rivalry, and connects it seamlessly to myth, to legend, to the supernatural, in such a way that it seems to reveal how those connections were always there. We just forgot how to see them.

The sense of a world that is larger and darker and more dangerous, where actions have repercussions far beyond the ones we can see, where the wrong turn can send one tumbling helplessly down the rabbit-hole, pervades this book, and creates an atmosphere that is at once alienating and comforting.

By revealing the stories, the connections, behind our lives, the intertwining of experience and narrative, Gaiman has created something quite unique, and that feels like it will last as long as we choose to recognize it.

2 comments:

  1. Perhaps my Gaiman binge as a teenager has spoiled me, but I found the beats for Ocean at the End of the Lane to fairly pedestrian. A nostalgic narrator, a mundane world swimming with ugly undercurrents, an Otherland spiced with new weird flourishes drawing from folklore, the kindly and malicious Othelanders, the intersection of the mundane problems with some force within Otherland, and the turnabout of the narrator's life as directly impacted by their interaction with the Otherland.

    Perhaps I'm just painting with broad strokes, but I could predict the story beat-per-beat, and while I can't say I didn't enjoy it, I found Ocean. to be unworthy of the praise it was lavished.

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    1. I obviously liked it more than you did! It's not as good as, say, American Gods, but I still really enjoyed it.

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