Neil Gaiman,
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
(William Morrow, 2013)

I didn't like the end.

Let me get that out of the way up front. I'm a Neil Gaiman fan from way back -- from the days when he wrote comics instead of books, and I've eaten up his stories in whatever form they come for a good many years now.

Of course I was thrilled when a new novel hit the presses. The Ocean at the End of the Lane promised to be Gaiman's first adult-oriented novel in some years, which immediately put me in mind of my favorite of his books: American Gods.

But Ocean isn't of the same scope as Gods. It's much more like Coraline; in fact, I'd say the young, 7-year-old protagonist of Ocean inhabits a very similar world to that novel's eponymous heroine. But, while Coraline was marketed for young adults, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, as I mentioned, is aimed at adults.

I'm not sure why, to be honest. It's a bit scary, yes, but no more, I think, than the creepy Other Mother who craved Coraline's eyes. A young reader who can enjoy one will love the other.

Maybe it's because of the ending, which -- without giving away any details of the plot -- I found depressing. Of course, that shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise in a Gaiman tale, but nonetheless, younger readers might find the last few pages something of a downer.

I know I did. But hey, we adults accept downers as an inevitable part of life, right?

Well, that's depressing, too.

Anyway, Ocean begins with a man who has just come from a funeral. Caught in memories, he visits the site of his childhood home, and he wanders to the end of the lane where there is -- not an ocean, as the title might lead you to expect, but a simple, ordinary old pond.

Or is it?

Flash back to his youth, when our young hero first met the Hempstocks: Lettie, age 11 (maybe), as well as her mother and grandmother. Anyone who knows Gaiman's previous works will recognize a new incarnation of the Fates, and a wonderful incarnation it is.

Our hero -- who is never named, by the way -- has had it tough. His life isn't so bad, really, but no one comes to his birthday party. And he loves his kitten, but it's killed by a car. The replacement cat is, well, not very cuddly. And then there's the guy, and a dead body, and -- well, things aren't going well.

And then people start receiving money, but in unexpected and usually unpleasant ways. Lettie tries to fix things, but something new enters the world. And it wants, among other things, our hero.

To behave.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is dark and, yes, a little scary. It's a mythic fantasy the likes of which we've come to expect from Gaiman. It's deep and rich and murky, and I'd gladly recommend it to anyone who likes their fantasy a bit on the horrific side.

That said, I hoped for more. Something on a bigger scale -- because, call it adult fiction all you want, this still felt like a YA novel.

And that ending -- it still makes me sad.

book review by
Tom Knapp

6 July 2013

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