Synopsis: Neil Gaiman's intent was simple: to write a short story. What he ended up with instead was The Ocean at the of the Lane--his first adult novel since Anansi Boys came out in 2005, and a narrative so thoughtful and thrilling that it's as difficult to stop reading as it was for Gaiman to stop writing. Forty years ago, our narrator, who was then a seven-year-old boy, unwittingly discovered a neighboring family’s supernatural secret. What happens next is an imaginative romp through otherwordly adventure that could only come from Gaiman's magical mind. Childhood innocence is tested and transcended as we see what getting between ancient, mystic forces can cost, as well as what can be gained from the power of true friendship. The result is a captivating tale that is equal parts sweet, sad, and spooky.
It is 12:30 AM as I write this. This review won't be posted until sometime tomorrow (today?), but I wanted to get my thoughts out on The Ocean at the End of the Lane quickly -- I wanted to strike the iron while it's hot, so to speak. I just finished reading it a few minutes ago, and . . . I am a little blown away.
This is a deeply intricate novel. While it is short on page count (my hardcover copy clocks in at 179 pages) it makes up for it in subtext and implication. My gosh, I feel I would have to reread this novel a few times to mine all the themes and ideas Gaiman is exploring here. I might reread it in the coming months -- it is certainly short enough to be read in only a day or two!
This novel is steeped in myth, magic, and memory. A middle-aged man visits his childhood home and reminisces on a strange period in his life -- his seventh year, when he met a strangely magical girl up the road who changed his life for ever. This is a book that is very much about childhood seen through the lens of adulthood -- and with adulthood comes baggage and wish fulfillment. There were moments in the story when I felt Neil Gaiman was going for the unreliable narrator thing (the bathtub scene immediately comes to mind) which is totally cool -- as an exploration of false memory nothing else would do.
I am tempted to call this a fantasy novel, but I will decline to do so. I'm really not sure what I would call it, if I'm being honest. Simply put, this is one of those rare novels that is good for the heart and soul, all while remaining deeply resonate with a message that speaks to the core of what makes us human -- the magic of childhood and the loss of innocence . . . . but it is also about so much more than that. So much more. Do not let the short length fool you -- this is a story with more complexity, more hidden edges, and more dark shadows than most. Filled with beautiful, heart-wrenching prose (not a single word is wasted!) and intriguing, oft-interesting characters, I loved this story from beginning to end. It was like . . . Well, it was like soaking in a hot tub while listening to a harpist. No metaphor comes to mind that is more fitting. This was my first Neil Gaiman novel, but it certainly won't be my last.