The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
That was a good book. Not a great one, but very very good. It’s a classic Gaiman story; young people, shadowlands, ancient beings, “beating of giant wings”… all the good stuff. I listened to it, read by the author, which at times can be a tricky proposition but Gaiman is a performer and he does a great job with his own words (This is not always the case, mind you) and at just under 6 hours listening time, this isn’t a long piece of fiction. So why isn’t it great? For me, length is actually one of the factors. See, I may be in the minority here, but I think Gaiman is better in the long form. I loved American Gods, thought Neverwhere was amazing, but as for his short stories, I’ve generally been unimpressed. Even the Sandman, which, like many, was my introduction to Gaiman’s writing, works better when taken in the context of the longer story arcs then the individual issues (I mean the ones designed as indivdual issues, not the segments of the bigger pieces). The Ocean at the End of the Lane is probably little more than a novella in terms of word length and so, for me, succumbs to the problem that his short pieces have – they stay close to the surface with illusory glimpses at depth.
Also, this book is touted as his “first adult novel in a decade” or somesuch… I’m not sure what they mean by that and in fact, I think it’s a disservice to the story. There is nothing inherent in the book which a teenager or, as they say in the book trade, a “young adult” couldn’t handle. Nothing scarier than in the Harry Potter series or the Chronicles of Narnia. The fact that the narrator is an unamed man in his 40s, looking back at an event which took place when he was 7, gives Gaiman the opportunity to show the world through the eyes of a (in my mind very precocious and adult) 7 year old. But what’s missing to make this a truly adult book is the reflection of the adult at what these events iindicate or signify. In my mind, this could easily become a classic fairy tale, but the themes are nothing new for Gaiman (see Coraline).
As always, the words themselves are wonderful (and I mean that quite literally… they do fill you with awe and wonder) and I hope it’s not so long before he again ddecides to try his hand at “adult” works.