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Bane of Kings reviews Neil Gaiman’s incredible The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
“An excellent book. Neil Gaiman fans will love this. A strong contender for the Best Book of 2013.” ~The Founding Fields
I’ve only read two Neil Gaiman book before – Coraline and American Gods (not counting graphic novels). And have loved both of them (and his Sandman Volume 1 was incredibly awesome), so needless to say – I was super-pumped for The Ocean at the End of the Lane. If I’d have remembered to make a Most Anticipated List for 2013, then this book would probably be very near (if not at) the top. As it was Gaiman writing his first proper adult novel since Anansi Boys in 2005, the expectation was, no doubt high. And there are two things that you’ll notice about The Ocean at the End of the Lane, one – before you start reading, the other after you finish. The first, is that the book is actually quite short. It’s not your average length for a hard-cover book, nor the average size. It’s short, clocking in at 200-300 pages. The second – is that apart from a sex scene, this could easily be a young adult novel. But that hardly detracts from just how incredibly awesome that this book is.
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.
A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.
One first thing that you’ll notice is that there is no reliance on the usual mythology here that populates urban fantasy. There aren’t any Vampires, Werewolves, and certainly no Gods from any ancient Pantheon. But then again, it’s Neil Gaiman. You shouldn’t expect him to write an average, stereotypical urban fantasy featuring either a badass Buffy ripoff or an equally badass Harry Dresden ripoff. No, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is different. Unique.
Not many authors can write a story with a lead character that doesn’t even have a name, but Gaiman succeeds. His take on the seven year old boy is realistic, and deals with several themes – stuff that has been forgotten, dreams and the questioning of reality. This book, like Coraline before it, provides some creepy scenes, and yet – the book isn’t quite all horror. It doesn’t quite feel at home on a horror shelf, nor urban fantasy – nor fantasy itself for that matter. Every so often you come across a book that can’t quite fit into one clear genre, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane fills that category. It’s a superb book.
A strength in Gaiman’s writing was that he has managed to add a little extra to the ordinary, making his stories feel something more than they would in the hands of any writer. Even the most mundane moments of the book are given that extra feel – and thus has unfolded a wonderful tale. Fans of Gaiman only need three words of convincing in order to pick this book up, and they are “By Neil Gaiman.” His output is incredibly awesome, and he’s really good in a wide variety of settings as well - his two Doctor Who episodes were incredible, even if Nightmare in Silver may have not been as awesome as The Doctor’s Wife, and Sandman is one of my favourite graphic novels – although I am seriously behind on my reading, having only read Volume 1.
The book itself is written beautifully, describing a lost childhood in a wonderful way. There’s a nice nod to Batman that fans will appreciate, and that made me smile when I saw it. It’s not so overly glaring in your face in a way that it feels like the author is trying to include as many pop-culture references as possible (which is a similiar problem to what I’ve had with other books), and it just feels like it fits. I don’t want to spoil too much, but Gaiman’s work is best left going in with as limited knowledge about the plot as possible. All you need to really know is that Gaiman wrote it, and that should be enough.