If I had to describe The Ocean at the End of the Lane in one word, it would be unexpected.
When picking our book for last month, what pulled us in to this one was the length (only 178 pages), the movie poster-esque cover, the fact that it was Goodreads’ choice 2013 winner, and the cliffhanger back-of-the-book description of an unremembered past that was “too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy”. I think we all assumed that this unremembered past was going to involve a horrendous crime of some sort, however, this is where the book takes an unexpected turn into the fantasy world of Neil Gaiman’s imagination, filled with fleas, varmints, un-aging neighbours, fields of kittens, and oceans at the end of laneways.
A brief summary of the book: the main character is a middle-aged man who returns to his home in rural England to attend a funeral. While home, he ventures from his house down to the end of the lane where his friend Lettie Hempstock and her family used to live. This is when his memories begin flooding back and we are taken on a trip into a world of vivid fantasy. I don’t want to give too much away in this review, as the unexpectedness of the book is what made me really like it so much, and I wouldn’t want to deny discovering this world the way Gaiman intends to someone first reading the book. Also, I’m not sure you’d even believe me if I tried!
A book such as this one had the UBC members torn – our ratings ranged from high 4s to low 2s. What we did mostly all agree upon was the great use of imagery and descriptions Gaiman uses to aid your imagination in visualizing things we have never laid eyes on before. We also really enjoyed how he was able to write remarkably well from a child’s perspective, capturing the innocence of childhood and its many stark distinctions from adulthood. And I think we were all united in our hatred for Ursula Monkton, the book’s evil antagonist flea.
Personally, I rather enjoyed how Gaiman created this imaginary world and seemingly did not feel the need to justify it to the readers. He talks about things like “hunger birds” and “snipping and stitching” like they are everyday occurrences, and the reader is left to decide for his or herself what exactly is transpiring. It made things seem somewhat more real, if that’s even possible.
I also enjoyed how the book made me reflect on my own childhood memories and how there is so much that I have experienced yet can’t explicitly remember. I think that’s why, although fantasy based, this book is written for adults – because you need to read it from an adult perspective, with adult experience. In other words, you must be adult enough to miss childhood.