The story is enough.

The story is enough.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This review can be read in the Canon City Daily Record.

"Adults follow paths. Children explore." Though both seem to inhabit similar spaces, they also manage to live in very different worlds. And different worlds require different rules - those for adults, those for children, and those for monsters. Sometimes these rules collide with fatal results.

Neil Gaiman, Newberry-winning author of "The Graveyard Book," explores such rules and boundaries in a story that began as a gift for his wife. The result is "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," the bestselling novel making fantasy accessible, as easy to reach and enjoy as a favorite fairy tale.

An artist attends a funeral near the home of a childhood friend, and memories return. He recalls clearly - vividly - being a helpless boy who loved books, kittens, and Gilbert & Sullivan operas. He remembers the powerful and odd women of the Hempstock farm: Old Mrs. Hempstock was old enough to remember the Big Bang; Ginnie could read others' thoughts; and Lettie, eleven, knew everything. The man cannot forget tragic events that held him in their grip shortly after his seventh birthday.

At the end of an English lane in the country, there is an ocean, and dreams and reality blur into one tangle. There, a monster takes advantage of adult greed and desires for instant gratification. And what about the children? Are they, too, powerless over such lies and ignorance, fear and loneliness? No. For children know what it is to find comfort in the purr of a kitten, the warmth of a bath, the full belly after a meal, and the cozy companionship of a friend's hand when facing the unknown - when facing demons ("fleas" and "varmints") that change shape, discern hearts, and demand a home.

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" is brilliantly told in a clear, direct style. Though told from the point of view of a child, it is not a children's book. Even so, there is an immediacy - an urgency - in the telling of this beautiful tale, as if now, as an adult, the middle-aged man must conjure up what he once knew. This story unfolds and evolves like the recurrent dreams of youth.

Many novels of the fantasy genre require the reader to step into a whole new world and completely accept a reality quite different from their own. This novel approaches the world of grown-ups and invites readers to see it from the eyes of a child, and recognize a time when becoming a hero was not a mere fantasy, a time before "childhood memories [are] covered and obscured beneath things that come later."

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