This book is what Neil Gaiman does best: make the mundane meet the fantastic.
And I mean that in a quite literal way. In all of the Gaiman novels I have so far read (American Gods, Stardust and Neverwhere), the protagonist is an otherwise ordinary human being somehow thrust into or put in touch with an alternate world, sometimes by accident, sometimes by circumstance. Each does it differently, but each does it in a uniquely Gaiman way.
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is no different. This time, the lead is a middle-aged man re-remembering when he was seven. And that’s an important detail that gives the book a frame. There is a single narrative, a single voice. Gaiman captures the peculiar point-of-view of a seven-year-old as a remembrance. All the action happens in and around an isolated farmhouse down the end of a laneway in rural England, one short of an even more remote farmhouse at the end of the lane.
It is easy to spoil this book. Too easy. There is so much that you simply need to experience for yourself by reading it. The titular ocean is a character of its own, though it is off-stage for much of the story. There are several cats with important roles. And there is another world complete with its own monsters and monster hunters that can touch ours in ways strange and yet completely logical.
There is loss, there are mistakes. There is hope and there is melancholy. It is a story both rich with emotion and room for the reader to add their own.
This is a story that shows you how to be happy with regrets.
This is a longer version of my GoodReads review.
What do you think happens when a friend tweets about their apparantly missing copy of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and how they’d like to read it again? Especially when Neil Gaiman is flavour of the month on Twitter at the moment? Even more especially when her closest Twitter friends are unashamed Gaiman fans, too? 🙂
What happens is that we now have at least half-a-dozen close friends who are going to spend April reading Good Omens, and then May reading American Gods. And there has been at lesat one proposal for The Ocean At The End Of The Lane for June.
Sometimes a work of fiction doesn’t want to work, despite the writer’s best efforts and intentions. The world-building is proceeding apace, the descriptions are gelling, the dialogue is just flowing… but what about the story? This blog was called “Just Add Story” in part because that’s the part I have the most problem with when writing.
My current Work-In-Progress has a protagonist who doesn’t know he needs to do something. I’m discovering that that is a difficult place to write from. First he has to be convinced, in story, that there is a Noble Cause to commit his life to. And then he can Chase After It. But someone else needs to kick him along in the first part otherwise he’ll find a place to farm And That Will Be That.
I was reminded of the need for the hero to have a quest by Neil Gaiman. I started reading Stardust today. By the time I’m just 20% of the way in to the novel, the hero has a Quest and has set off to fulfil it.
I need to give my protagonist a quest to follow. And I need to give it to him earlier than I thought I would need to.
This is a difficult question. Many trying-to-be-writers will leap onto a particular favourite author and say “I write like them!”. Once they’ve gotten a hundred thousand words down in various projects, I see these writers hesitate to be identified with a particular writer.
We all write differently. It’s a stupidly obvious statement, of course, because we are all different people. Different life experiences, different educations, different value systems. Yet we still want to write like a favourite writer.
I picked up this book in a bookstore some months ago due to the fact I was in a bit of a buying mood and I’d never read any Neil Gaiman. His writing had basically passed me by somehow. But the Internet had made quite a big deal over the fact that he’d written the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife“. And I had definitely recognised this as a very special episode. So I bought “American Gods”.