Thursday, July 18, 2013

Neil Gaiman Gets Found Again At Sea

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane
While its length is more indicative of a novella than a novel, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman doesn't want for anything. The book is tightly drawn, brilliantly written, and imaginative without end.

Some might even say that the most fitting analogy is the pond behind Lettie Hempstock's house. It looks terribly small until you learn that it's an ocean. And like all oceans and the lands around them, it can very easily sweep someone away with it and most readers will be swept away.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is a story about a seven-year-old boy who is never named. He is a bookish little fellow without any real friends. Nobody even shows up for his birthday party except his younger sister and her friends (and they only came for cake).

We first meet him when he is 47, stumbling along the neighborhood of his youth. He is looking for something, trying to remember.

The narrator tunes into his memory like a transistor, connected but fuzzy.

As he wanders around his childhood stomping grounds, the narrator slowly regains bits and fuzzy pieces about what happened to him there. None of it is the stuff you might expect from most children. His memories are dreary, with the promise of something happier and fantastical just over the horizon.

Unfortunately for him, however, not all journeys past hedgerows lead to better places. Sometimes the fantastical only seems alluring to you for the first time, especially when accompanied by your first real friend. To everyone else, especially things that live in such places, it's your world that has an allure.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane
So when he and the presumably 11-year-old girl Lettie Hempstock enjoy a few adventures on the fringe of their world and the fringe of another, it isn't any surprise that someone or something might take an interest. What is a surprise, however, is how easily the woman (or flea) could hitch a ride.

It's so easy, in fact, that nobody even noticed until the woman had set her mind to work, granting wishes to make people happy without considering the consequences. If money was everything people wanted, then she would load them up. Never mind where or when it might materialize.

While that might sound more enchanting than fiendish, the narrator has a bigger problem on his hands. The thing they brought back with them isn't simply lurking around invisible. It has signed on to serve as the narrator and his sister's nanny. Sadder still, the cure might be harder to bear than the headache.

A few graphs about author Neil Gaiman, a master at adult fairy tales. 

Neil Gaiman
One of the more unique aspects of this sweet, sad, and spooky tale is that Gaiman borrowed significant portions from his own childhood. The family in the book is not his own family. As he puts it, he plundered only parts of his childhood and then literally reshaped them into a story.

The book began innocently enough after someone had asked him to write a short story. He eventually had to abandon the short as the story ballooned into a book that nobody was expecting. And perhaps this is what will make The Ocean At The End Of The Lane memorable for an author as seasoned as Gaiman.

The book itself carries an innocence that few writers can rediscover, let alone one who has written dozens of books and countless stories, ranging from comic books to films. Among his most notable works include comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, and Coraline. The latter, incidentally, is probably the closest in tone to this new adventure.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane Waves 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

For the few who find the thinness troublesome, the counterpoint is clear enough. The story is precisely the length it needs to be, not one word too long or short. I wish more writers would show restraint. If they did, then this yarn might be their story and not one of Gaiman's finest.

You can find The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel by Neil Gaiman on Amazon. You can also find the novel at Barnes & Noble or download it for iBooks. The audio version is especially memorable because Gaiman narrates it. There is something that stands out about that decision. While he has a warm, comforting voice that reads like a narrator (and not a character), the narrator is probably closer to being Gaiman than any other character he has ever brought to life.
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