I just read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and it’s wonderfully done but I didn’t enjoy it. There’s a good chance you might, though.
Gaiman is one of the very few writers whose books I just go ahead and buy without waiting to read reviews or even sniffing the social-media fumes. This book won’t change that even though it made me unhappy.
Gaiman’s in good form, so the magic here is magical, the people are real (except for the ones that aren’t supposed to be), the monsters are monstrous, and the ambiance is intensely felt: You are there.
But I didn’t like it because it scared the hell out of me. The situation is just way too plausibly horrible, even if it involves an immortal intruder from outside our reality. I had to put the book down and go out on the back porch at one point, and nearly didn’t pick it up again.
But hold on; the horror involves a father and his 7-year-old and I’m one of those and have one of those. So it was right there in my gut, the fear and desperation of a kid finding a monster invading his family and sharing his life. But for people not quite so close to the situation, it might just be pleasantly thrilling.
Ewwww. But really, really well-done. Lighten up next time please, Mr G.
Comment feed for ongoing:
From: Peter Keane (Jun 24 2013, at 18:57)
Another father of a seven y.o. Funny how that colors a lot of what I think & feel about the world. I think I'll pass on this one for awhile...
From: Kathy Sierra (Jun 24 2013, at 19:07)
Glad you posted this, so I'll be prepared. Sound like it's on the other end of the spectrum from Stardust, but can you compare it to Neverwhere or American Gods?
My kids are older, so maybe it won't have that same effect, but still.
It's a Gaiman book, which means my husband I will read it to each other (it's a thing... we read to each other from Stardust at our wedding) no matter how scary. But I'm glad you set my expectations.
From: vicki smith (Jun 25 2013, at 04:41)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane transported me back to when I read fairy tales as a kind--not the sanitized versions in the "modern" picture books, but the Andrew Lang ones I fell in love with in junior high. The books was terrifying, but safe in that way we make ourselves safe under the covers and in familiar surroundings. There is another level of safety there, the safety that happens when kinds come to know that they are better off relying on themselves and the people you choose to be close to they choose to be close to instead of their families.
From: David Taylor (Jun 25 2013, at 10:50)
Somehow "Bod" in the graveyard book was more real to me and he was dead.
Love his writing but this was not as scary for me. Maybe it will grow on me. His stuff usually does.
From: Dan Guy (Jun 26 2013, at 09:56)
@Dave: Bod wasn't dead. That was the point of the ending. While he had been raised by the dead, he was alive so, in the end, he had to leave the graveyard and live. That is, Neil wrote, the tragic nature of parenthood: that, if you do your job correctly, your children will one day leave and go out on their own.
I won't say that I enjoyed OCEAN, but I love it. I agree that it is (existentially) frightening at points and very heart-wrenching over all. A nameless narrator returns to his childhood haunts and remembers a short period in his young life. He looks back with adult understanding, but also mourning the loss of his childish understanding.
It is, I think, akin to if CORALINE was told by a middle aged Coraline, returning to that house of the book to bury her mother. Whereas CORALINE gave us a story of a child confronting magical menace from the child's perspective, OCEAN tells a similar story from a far-removed adult perspective.
A lot of my friends have reported crying at the end. I think many of us see ourselves in the narrator, who is fundamentally broken and nostalgic, but for whom their is still hope, as attested by the oldest Hempstock in the end. It is a hard read but, I think, a good one.
From: David Taylor (Jun 27 2013, at 17:19)
I apologize. Bod was not dead. Throughout the book I kept wondering if he really was though.
Your explanation makes it come back to me.
From: Kathy sierra (Jul 18 2013, at 23:31)
Half-way in, yes, glad you wrote this post is I was prepped. Scary. Loving the writing so so much. But yeah, more difficult for me than his other "adult" novels because kids.