SUMMARY (I hate giving summaries/synopses so I’ve nicked this one from Nook.com):
“It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.”
I just finished the book yesterday morning and I was about 60 pages in thinking I’d made a mistake and that it was sort of …”meh”. At first it seemed…mildly possibly interesting, but ultimately a little aimless. HOWEVER(!) I’m really glad I kept going!
I found it odd at times reading and thinking about how it is an adult telling this story because he tells it like a child – with child-like wording in a way… I have a note-to-self that mentions that it feels very awkward somewhere in chapter 6 and it doesn’t help that every so often the (now 47 year old) narrator says something to remind you that it is him telling a story from his childhood. At first I could decide if it was better that way because you really get into his seven year old perspective (and you really do!) or just weird because the story was being told by a 47 year old man-child (hah). In the end I decided I liked it because you did really get into the story this way. It felt like it was told from the perspective of a child who doesn’t know what happens next and anything could happen next and the fact that adult-him was safe and telling the tale meant nothing. But it took some getting used to for me at first.
I loooved the Hempstocks and the fantastic world they inhabited within our world. So intriguing and comforting and wondrous. Beautiful, ‘old world’ magic realism that all seemed perfectly logical.
I also loved how many strong female characters this book has – villains and heroines alike! I mean I really loved that. In fact, most of the characters are women and all of the male protagonist’s heroes (fictional and real) are female! How brilliant! I love that this book is basically saying, “yes! boys can relate to female characters and see them as strong and learn to be strong themselves by admiring these strong heroines”.
I think women outnumber men in this book 2:1. And each character is interesting and dynamic. That said, I feel that, from the perspective of our narrator recounting his experiences as a 7 year old child, all the dynamism is inferred because the protagonist doesn’t/can’t interpret everything he sees – there is a point when he mentions (as a 47 year old) that a certain thing he saw as a child meant nothing to him at the time, but that he would have interpreted it very differently had he seen it as an adult. So it’s interesting reading the story as it’s told and reading deeper to see what our narrator didn’t see as a child.
There was an element near the end of what I’d call ‘memory meddling’ (and even earlier than that), but I wouldn’t say our narrator is an unreliable narrator. And while I sometimes dislike memory meddling, in this case, I felt it made the story all the more interesting. It plays with the idea of what you remember as a child – some of which may seem unlikely or incomprehensible – and whether it was real or imagined and not knowing quite how things happened after being told different versions of the story regardless of the fact you experienced it first hand.
With magic realism stories – especially those with ‘did I remember that right?’ aspects – I often think what it would mean if all the magic was just metaphor for completely non-magical happenings. In this case, that might be things going wrong in childhood (abuse) and the protagonist making up alternate stories to explain what happened in a way that is easier to process, which makes you try to imagine the ‘real’ events hidden behind the magic.
If not for one adult (…but only just!) scene, this probably could have been a middle grade book…which…I think is sort of a shame. It’s like that scene just cut this book off to so many young readers who would find it completely captivating. Although maybe they will read it anyway and that will just be the taboo/confusing/naughty scene that they don’t speak about perhaps..? hah…
Ocean at the End of the Lane is actually my first Neil Gaiman book (despite the fact that I have owned a copy of Coraline for about five years now and have it on good word that it is a lovely read). And it was, to my mind, a fantastic introduction.
In the end, I decided to give this book a 4 stars because, even though I thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t pinpoint anything ‘wrong’ with it, it’s still not quite at the level of my other favourites (…but I could certainly see my opinion changing after some more thought!).
Now for the nitty gritty facts and bitties!
genre: fantasy, horror, young adult, fiction
source & date read: one of my GR book clubs was reading it for august (but I finished it 4th September…)
recommend: for lovers of fantasy, magic, childhood nostalgia, and/or dark children’s literature
pros: well-written, intriguing ‘old world’ magic, captivating story, strong female characters
cons: slow to start/get its sea-legs (get it? see what I did there!? ocean? sea-legs? eh? eh?), would be the perfect young adult and children’s book EXCEPT for that one scene…