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Friday, September 27, 2013

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Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

This book is simply beautiful.

Written by best selling author, Neil Gaiman,  The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is an adult fairy tale that is thoughtful, beautiful, terrifying, and nostalgic all at the same time.

The novel opens with our main character driving mindlessly towards his childhood home. As if being drawn by some force, he feels compelled to visit the house at the end of the lane where his friend Lettie Hempstock lived. As he walks in, meets one of Lettie's relatives, and sits by the pond at the back of the house, childhood memories come flooding back to him.
I had been here, hadn't I, a long time ago? I was sure I had. Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good.
The memories that he recalls are of a short period in his life when, at seven years old, he meets 11-year-old Lettie Hempstock and her family who help him get rid of a nanny that is actually a terrible monster from another world. Lettie and her family are not ordinary humans, but great and powerful beings from "across the ocean," which is what Lettie calls the duck pond at the back of the house.

I was wrapped up in the world of whimsy immediately. I love fairy tales and magic. It's wonderful. But this is definitely an adult fairy tale. It is very dark and scary. The terrible monster who poses as the nanny, Ursula Monkton, is brought into our world because a man kills himself for gambling away all of his money. Ursula takes it upon herself to give the people in the village what they desire: money. But of course, her good intentions are not good at all. She is horrible and cruel, and our seven-year-old main character is terrified of her.

But beneath the dark fairy tale is the theme of children being afraid of growing up and all that is lost after they do. Here is how the main character describes Urusla Monkton as she tries to bring her power down upon him.
She was the storm, she was the lighting, she was the adult world with all its power and all its secrets and all its foolish casual cruelty. She winked at me.
 And little Lettie Hempstock reassures our main character with this quote.
I'm going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.
Truer words have never been spoken.

I will say that, perhaps, Gaiman was a little heavy handed with this theme though. The story wrapping was very transparent, and it was easy to see the real message behind the fairy tale. I personally like the underlying message to be a little more implied rather than quite so obvious. But the writing is so true and poetic, I'll let him get away with it.

Overall, Gaiman has created a beautiful tale that I connected with right away. Adults like Ursula Monkton are scary. And I never want to grow up and let the wonder fade from the world.

I will leave you with one last quote from this story on the beauty and innocence of childhood.
I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I found joy in the things that made me happy.
Have you read this charming adult fairy tale? Head over to the forum to discuss!

Title: The Ocean at The End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fantasy Fiction

Recommendation:  Yes

Best Reader Audience: Mature male and female readers

Final Rating: Four out of Five mugs of hot chocolate

Want to walk down the magical memory lane? Use the link below and your purchase will also help support the Lone Book Club.

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