Monday, March 28, 2016

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

From Goodreads:

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

Neil Gaiman is hit and miss for me. I love his brand of magical realism...sometimes. Sometimes he wraps it up in a bit too much darkness and I find myself slogging rather than enjoying. Neverwhere was a slog for me while Graveyard Book was enjoyable. American Gods and this one, The Ocean at the End of the Lane are somewhere in between.

One thing I kept coming back to over and over while reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane is how much I prefer being an adult. I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again- being an adult is the best. Yeah, there's responsibility but also you can eat cake for breakfast and see a movie in the middle of the day. The boy at the center of this book mentions more than once that when you're 7 you're at the mercy of adults. You have to do what they say, go where they tell you to go, sleep when they tell you to go to bed. The narrative reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's whole "high school is literal hell" analogy- having no freedom sucks. It doesn't matter whether you're at the mercy of parents and teachers or a paranormal being from "the old country" who is determined to confine you to smaller and smaller areas and make it so no one believes you when you say your babysitter is actually a monster. Kids are powerless and I think this book really nails that feeling.

So much of this book is just about childhood- the way adults will always take the known path whereas children will explore the hundred other ways from A to B. The way children imagine and fear and play. The way things shape our lives and we forget about them because we were young, even if we feel the echoes decades later. 

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