I started reading The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman on Sunday evening. I stopped reading it when I could no longer keep my eyes open, having got more than half way through. Yesterday, on Tuesday, I finished reading it half an hour after I got home from work. So it’s safe to say I enjoyed it.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane starts with George, a man in his forties, having come from a funeral and returning to visit the place where he grew up. What he finds there is a duckpond which is also an ocean, and the key to memories of a time when he was seven and he learned that the world was more magical, and more dangerous, than he realised. The book contains menacing beings, enchanting visuals and a family of very intruiging women. And also several cats.
It is a powerful story about memories, about childhood, and about how perspectives change between childhood and adulthood. I also think it is about belief: belief in friends, in oneself, and to a certain extent in things that aren’t seen.
It’s taken me as long as it has to write this review because it’s very difficult to come up with new and different ways of saying “it was awesome” for the length that I usually like to write a review. When writing is this good, it’s hard to pick out anything in particular to comment on; it’s hard to think about the writing at all, when it is written so seamlessly that mere words go unnoticed within the magic of the story.
So I suppose that makes a good starting point: the flow and pacing were spot on. There was no part where I felt the writing moved too slowly or too quickly for the content of the story. I finished this book in three sittings, and at the end of each I stopped for reasons which are not the fault the book – sleepiness, dinner being ready, and, okay, yes, the third one is the fault of the book; there was none of it left.
The only occasions I did have enough self-awareness to notice the writing was twice when I noticed how well chosen particular phrases were to give an impression of a visual in a masterful economy of words.
One of those visuals, of a scattering of candle flames and silk, really encapsulated one side of the magic of the world: it is full of enchantment and wonder. It is beautiful and beyond reason, and there is a comfort to its presence. The other side of the magical world mirrored it perfectly, with sinister creatures which felt genuinely creepy and dangerous, even before they actually became dangerous.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane gives also a very good example of how a prologue and epilogue can be used effectively to frame a story, while being both relevant to it and slightly outside it. They brought the story full circle, and gave insight into the characters and the world which could not be told from the perspective of the seven-year-old George.
This is a book I want to read again. It’s definitely going on my favourites shelf (the top shelf, alongside Howl’s Moving Castle). I am not at all surprised that it won the National Books Awards 2013 Book of the Year award. And after everything I have written above, I suspect you will not be surprised when I rate it 10/10.