Monday, March 11, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

According to goodreads, which has a better memory than I do about these things, I finished this over a month ago on February 7th. A month ago? Do I even remember what happens? Yes, I do. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is not a story made for forgetting, although it is a story that features forgetting. It's a tale about a lot of things, deceptively full given the slimness of its ARC.

Arguably, this is the tightest book that Neil Gaiman has written; it has the emotional honesty of The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury and is terrifying for the reasons that adults find Coraline terrifying. When you're a child and something frightens you, you locate it on another frequency once you're an adult. It's not necessarily more or less unsettling, it's just different. That subtle perspective shift in looking back versus living through is what makes this book so heartbreaking to read.

This is dark, but all of Gaiman's books are dark. What makes The Ocean at the End of the Lane so unsettling is that it's just one-step away from reality. It creeps over and breathes on your neck and you feel it still behind you even when you try to duck it. A lengthwise kind of fear with long arms adept at slipping around corners and walking in shadows until it finds you.

Of course, there can't be shadows without light. I don't want to minimize the whimsy and the moments of beauty that have been woven through the story, as that balance creates a book that is more than just horror or an account of horrible things happening. This is a book that reads like it has a point, which it deftly makes, then bids you good-night.

I go to Neil Gaiman's books when I need something—be it a reminder of the basic life lessons of The Graveyard Book, or the beautiful descriptions of Stardust, or the complicated tangle of tales and lives and gods in the ambitious long-con of American Gods. That's what makes someone your favourite author, isn't it? That we connect with their stories, and willfully surrender bits of our brainspace to keep those tales alive. To keep them with us, because there is something in them that speaks to us—even if it's just something we're pulling out through the personal mirror that is reading fiction.

I do the impossible on a daily basis, and I'd forgotten the confidence of knowing that when I read this book. That's what The Ocean at the End of the Lane gently reminded me—after kicking me in emotional equivalent of my kidneys first. (This is a book out to metaphorically break your bones, because they didn't set properly when you thought they'd healed.) We do the impossible, each of us do, and sometimes we forget that others are also doing their own version of impossible, and you can't judge how well you're accomplishing yours by measuring it against theirs. (Honestly, I have no idea if that was in the book. But it's what I got out of it, because it was what I needed at the time.)

I think see glimpses in The Ocean at the End of the Lane of most of his other novels. My mind might be taking smoke and making it into shapes, but I like the shapes it makes—doors and borderlands and a farm with a great old tree. They're familiar places, well-visited, and therefore comforting even if they aren't things that offer comfort. They're from some of the books that taught me how to write.

I won't say that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the best Neil Gaiman's ever written, because "best" is a subjective term. It's easily one of the best books I've read. If you know me, you know those words are not said lightly—they carry the weight of an ocean.

1 comment:

Chelsey said...

I love this whole review.

That is all.