Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My mother's attempts at keeping me safe did just that but also made me a bit neurotic. I wonder if she ever knew how terrified I was as a child? It would crush her now to know I was so fearful because of what she said to me at the time. The Ocean at the End of the Lane opens with a quote from Maurice Sendak that speaks to childhood fears, “I remember my own childhood vividly. I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.” Clearly I was not the only child consumed by my fears and worried that adults mustn't find out.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman opens with a man returning to his childhood town and to the home of his old friend, Lettie Hemstock. Lettie's mother still lives on the old farm and invites the man in for a visit. Before he leaves he ask whether it would be alright to go down to the duck pond, the one that he and Lettie called an ocean when they were children. Sitting on the bench overlooking the pond the man tosses a nut into the water and the ripples cause him to remember everything.
When the narrator was seven-years-old an evil magic was unleashed on his neighborhood and on his family. This evil-being took the form of Ursula in the guise of a nanny. The young boy seemed to be the only person in his family to see her as the monster she was. The only person he could turn to for help was Lettie Hemstock because magical things seemed to happen around or because of her.
The boy led a lonely life filled with fears---he was even afraid to sleep without the bedroom door open to the lighted hall and no one came to his seventh birthday party. He certainly fits the definition of the unreliable narrator. Did these horrible things really happen to him or are they just the memories of a fear-filled kid? Gaiman, a master at writing an almost-terrifying story, leaves that answer up to the reader. Since I was also a kid consumed by my fears, I can relate to this question. Was my childhood as scary as I remember it or do I have a faulty memory of that time and place?
Clearly I could relate to this book filled with childhood memories about past fears, but that is not the only point of this fairy-tale like story. As I closed the book on the last page I found myself wondering, given a chance to look at my life, if those people who helped guide me through childhood would be pleased at how I turned out. Gaiman asks us to examine our lives from that vantage point, to see if we are wanting in some sort of way. I hope, as does our narrator as an adult, that they would be pleased with the grown-up me.
Clearly I loved the book, even the scary bits. I can easily recommend it for adults and older teens, and in fact, already have. I had the good fortune of consuming this book in the audio format where Neil Gaiman himself performed it. It was magical---the story and the recording.
Gaiman, Neil. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. New York: William Morrow, 2013. Print.
Gaiman, Neil. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. HarperAudio, 2013. CD.