Photo from Goodreads.com
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published 2013 Harper Collins $25.99
5 discs. 5hrs, 45min. 181 pp. 9780062263032
Available in print, eBook, and audiobook
Why I Read It
The first time, I read it because a friend recommended it. She’d also listened to the audiobook and loved the story. I was a little leery of trying Gaiman again. I started reading American Gods and ended up sorting to my ‘abandoned’ list on Goodreads. For whatever reason, it was not my book, and I was so looking forward to reading it. Knowing someone is a master of his craft and being let down by one of his most cited works was disappointing. My friend, though, insisted I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane. So, I did.
This second time, I read it for a class assignment. Normally, I’m not very enthused about class readings. This time was different. I truly enjoyed The Ocean at the End of the Lane and relished being able to read it again.
What does one do when the neighbor girl claims a pond is an ocean?
We meet our protagonist as he is driving from a funeral to his sister’s house for the wake. On the way, he finds himself heading towards his childhood home. He ends up at the farm down the lane, home of a girl he barely remembers, struck by a need to visit the pond she’d called an ocean. He encounters the girl’s mother, he thinks, who tells him that no, Lettie isn’t home, but yes, he is welcome to visit the ocean. Seeing the ocean brings back memories long-buried of Lettie Hempstock and the women on Hempstock farm, a lodger who committed suicide, woman who was not woman, and the ocean at the end of the lane.
Here’s what I think
Both times I’ve read this book, I listened to the audiobook performed by Neil Gaiman. His voice is honed by years of reading at the New York Public Library. There’s also the added benefit of his being British. The accent is perfectly suited to the characters. He doesn’t change his voice dramatically for each character, yet it is easy to distinguish between them. Often times, novels read by the author are not well done, because authors are not necessarily good readers/performers. Gaiman is both author and performer. I’m not sure how it would be if another performed the audiobook. Gaiman’s voice is singular and unmistakable, yet it is easy to forget during the performance.
As author, Gaiman has been hailed as one of the greatest living authors, writing across genres and for film and television. It is not undeserved. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is haunting and menacing. Descriptive, without feeling over done, the fantastical elements are brought to life. Just as much attention is paid to the normal elements of the story, the parents and siblings and flow of life. Ursula Monkton is a creepy chick, and the Hempstocks interactions with the protagonist and his parents lend humor to a dark story.
Gaiman is a master storyteller. His novels and short stories are classics.
5Q–Hard to imagine it being better written.
5P–Every reader of this author wanted it yesterday.
Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus
Charles de Lint
Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
Over Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper
The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
Haunting, mystical, bittersweet, crisp, melodious, read by the author, well-characterized
Book talk ideas
Ursula Monkton in the storm
Book discussion questions
1) The Hempstock women are all older than time, yet old Mrs. Hempstock remembers being a young girl. Do you believe the Hempstocks grew up or have they always been their current ages?
2) The Crone, the Mother, and the Maiden are female archetypes found in many cultures and religions. Speculate as to Gaiman’s choice to use the Hempstocks in the story.
3) Why do you believe that the entity known as Ursula Monkton is called a “flea”? What images or thoughts come to mind when you think of fleas?
4) Names are important, have power. Why do you think Gaiman never names the protagonist?
5) Is the ocean sentient? What does it represent, if anything?
Clues to the Future
Neil Gaiman, the ocean, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Lettie Hempstock, the Hempstocks, Ursula Monkton, evil babysitters, unnamed protagonist, worm in the foot
Awards and Lists
Goodreads Choice 2013
British Book Awards (Nibbies) Book of the Year 2013
Locus Award: Fantasy
Booklist Editor’s Choice: Adult books for young adults 2013
School Library Journal’s Adult Books for Teens 2013
Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews
Author website: http://www.neilgaiman.com/
Amazon interview the Joe Hill: http://www.omnivoracious.com/2013/06/uncharted-waters-joe-hill-explores-neil-gaimans-the-ocean-at-the-end-of-the-lane.html