The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

I have no higher praise for this than that it is a perfect little slice of memory and story. There’s something neatly complete about it, like a single memory being shared, even though it’s not real. It’s like… I don’t know, like sometimes, when you see something particularly beautiful and striking, and you know it’s going to stick like that in your mind for a very long time… somehow, it’s a whole story that manages to be precisely like that. Woo, we’re making sense today… But really, I can’t imagine not reading it all in one day. It’s quite a small book anyway, with fairly large print, and it just really lends itself to bingeing. But it adds to that sense of one perfect coherent whole, a tiny complete thing, to have read it all together. Possibly if I’d read it in bits and bobs, I’d have a different view of it, and see it more in terms of snippets and snatches, as I am certain it could be read, but I’d like to think that this way is better.

It was nothing like I expected, I have to say. I was expecting a child’s story, a proper one, not something that could be one or the other, and not something so thoughtful. I’m glad it wasn’t what I expected though. In all honesty, I was reading this out of some misplaced sense of duty to the Neil Gaiman canon, rather than a deep desire to read the book, but it rewarded me far more than I deserved. It takes a lot of what I love about the bigger novels Gaiman has written – I’m thinking particularly Anansi Boys and American Gods here – and condenses and makes subtle the bigger intertextual stuff, it hints and implies where American Gods makes absolutely plain and clear. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but that fits with the whole of what it’s trying to do – it’s a short episode of memory, blurred and then forgotten again by the end of the book. It’s not the sort of style that lends itself to exposition, really. And I like not-exposition, sometimes.

I think the word I’d most use to describe it is simple, which sounds cruel, but it’s a sort of beautiful simplicity. It’s a single narrative (nearly) told clearly and plainly from the perspective of a seven year old child, whose understanding of the world, both real and unreal, is hampered by being a seven year old child. We lose all the overthinking and faffery and just have a small, perfect story.

I’m going to stop rambling now. I have a very clear sense in my head of how I feel about The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I’m not sure I’m actually capable of communicating it. It’s just a real feeling of completeness, of perfection and… well… neatness, that is intensely satisfying, even when it made me sad. It has something of the Guy Gavriel Kay books I’ve read about it; a calm, thoughtful pace that leaves you feeling peaceful, but makes it very hard to explain to someone else.

I hope at least I’ve made it clear that it’s bloody brilliant now go read it give the nice Mr. Gaiman more money to write pretty things for us.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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