This isn’t so much a review as it is a recommendation and some initial thoughts after finishing the book.
To be honest, I knew I was going to love this book. I’ve been following Neil Gaiman’s twitter and tumblr for a while, I read his Sandman comics years ago, I did a report on him when I was a freshman in college, I loved Coraline (as a book and movie), and I bought last-minute tickets (now sold out) to see him do a reading at the University of Washington in early July. I don’t do too many reviews on this blog, so I’m just going to explain it to you how I would explain a movie to someone after I saw it. There will be no spoilers. At least, nothing that you couldn’t find out online.
The most impressive aspect of reading Neil Gaiman’s newest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is its accessibility. It truly is a book that anyone can read and enjoy. However, some of the scenes may be inappropriate for the really young audiences. I wouldn’t recommend the book to the average elementary school student. That’s not to say that there aren’t some amazing books written with them in mind (The Giver), but you’d need a mature elementary reader. Personally, if I had kids, I’d let them read it. But I think a lot of what makes this book so great comes from having a lot of life experience and being able to look back. The book hits on a very familiar level, one I like to think everyone (adults and younger readers) can relate to. The book starts with a male protagonist who is looking back at an event in his life that he has been unable to escape. The story then shifts to his seventh birthday party and you know immediately that this is where the plot of the story is going to develop. Throughout the novel, I had to constantly remind myself that it is an adult telling the story. For me, when an adult writes in depth about childhood, it takes on a sad and nostalgic tone (of which, I am a fan). The simple innocence of childhood when contrasted with adulthood is something that tugs at the heartstrings. You find yourself missing those days that were spent playing. Not like playing a sport as an adult, but the kind of playing that can only be appreciated as a child. And the only enemies of this innocent playing are the adults. The characters’ commentary of adult behavior is thought provoking and you’ll find yourself thinking, “You know, I’ve thought that before, but never put it in those words.”
I think if I found any weak points in this book, it’s because I simply can’t enjoy books in the way I used to (and trust me, this book actually deals with books and reading a lot). College has ruined that childlike feeling of reading for the sake of reading. So instead of just saying, “I really liked that story,” I now read with this disturbing thought lingering in my mind, “If I were editing this book in a workshop, I can guarantee that I’d write ‘Beware the Passive Voice’ at the start of every chapter.” And maybe the UK isn’t as hard on it as we are in the United States, but yes, there is a lot of passive voice in this novel. Another thing some people are noticing is the supernatural aspect. I finished the book just a few hours ago (it came out yesterday) and there are already some reviews that say there are holes in the supernatural aspect of the novel. For me, that is not an issue at all, and that says something about a theme or message in the novel. Of course some supernatural aspects of a novel are not going to add up logically. That’s why it’s not called “natural.” And I think childhood is supernatural. At least in the mind of a child, or a seven year old protagonist. The world is a magical place to a child.
This book can’t be read too critically. I don’t think it’s going to win a Pulitzer Prize, but it is a fantastic read with some amazing passages that I will never forget. My favorite has to do with monsters:
“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren’t.”
That part of the novel is what makes this book standout. When you get to that part, you’ll just know that there is something special going on here. And it’s called good story telling.
This book is a very short read and totally worth your time. If you have a spare Saturday, there is no reason why you couldn’t finish this before dinner. And it’s only $14-$15 dollars on amazon for Kindle or hardback.