Book Club in Session: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Ocean end of Lane HeaderLauren: Between the genres of comic books and novels I’m most drawn to reading, it’s sometimes shocking to remember that not all books are a part of a series with hundreds and hundreds of pages building on the work that came before. It can become overwhelming, which is when it becomes pertinent to my psyche to throw in something short and sweet. Something like The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

With this novel, Neil Gaiman tells the story of a man remembering a moment in time long forgotten in which he encountered another side to the world he thought he knew as a child. It involves a cloth demon, ravenous shadows, rooted kittens, fairy circles of protection, and a whole lot more to enthrall and delight the youthful imagination in all of us.

***Warning: This Discussion Contains Spoilers***

So did your inner child enjoy this story more than your last book club pick, Heather?  (For those of you who don’t remember, Heather was pretty unenthused about her last pick, The Golem and The Jinni).

Heather: It was ok, but I was expecting more from it. Not awful, but not amazing either. Just kind of ho-hum. I thought the story was pretty forgettable (which is funny, since our main character kept forgetting every time his memory was altered in the story).  It’s hard to pinpoint what I didn’t like exactly; I guess this just really isn’t my genre.

What I did like about it is that Gaiman can really set a scene. He has a way with words that painted the most vivid imagery in my head. No matter how outlandish or weird, I was somehow able to see it all clearly, as though a demon made of curtains is something I see every day.

What did you think?

Lauren: Your face isn’t your genre…

I’m right there with you on Gaiman, and I would like to see this go from page to screen like some of his other stories I’ve really enjoyed (like Coraline and Stardust). Might just have to take out the nudity since this story seems to relate to people of all ages.

The story is really easy to breeze through so maybe had it been stretched out I would be right there with you ho-humming along, but I really enjoyed the glimpse into the world we saw. I need clarification on how the curtain demon came to be (was the suicide a cause or a symptom of the demon? He killed himself and that allowed her to enter our world? Is that also why she tried to make people happy with money at first?), but other than that I can’t think of too much to criticize (and even this criticism puts me at blame for my own forgetfulness more so than the writing).

I just really appreciate the idea of an unreliable narrator, like with Atonement and 300. It’s not like he realizes that the memory he is filling us in on isn’t 100% accurate, and we don’t find this out till the end of the book, but just this little bit of knowledge made me appreciate the story all the more because of what it led me to think about. Gaiman is just very simply playing with the idea of how our memories work, and even after our narrator’s mind unfogs to the spell working to keep his true memories from him, they come back to him wrong. How could you not remember having your heart ripped out!?

Can’t you at least appreciate that as a psychology lady?

Heather: Well quite frankly if my heart was ripped out I wouldn’t want to remember it either. You gotta repress that as far down as it will go!

Like I said, there wasn’t very much I can pinpoint that I didn’t like, I just wasn’t as taken with the story as you were. If anything, I wanted to spend less time in the mind of the little boy and more with the three Hempstock “women.” Like what exactly were they? They were apparently around since before the Earth’s existence, right? So in what form were they before human? Are they protectors of the Earth from whatever those other beings were? I wish we spent more time learning about them than in the mind if the unreliable narrator – because their part in all of this was the most interesting to me. I suppose the whole point is to keep them as mysterious as possible though.

And speaking of narrators, what six year old can shimmy down the side of the house to escape his room? Maybe he is misremembering that too? The more I think about it, I guess I see what you mean about how it was kind of a nice touch having the unreliable narrator and not being able to tell fact from fiction. I guess one of my favorite parts about all this is that as a six year old, he really has no one to turn to for help except for the Hempstocks. His parents let the curtain monster babysit him for goodness sakes, not to mention his dad’s little rendezvous with her. I don’t know what I’d do if I felt like absolutely no one except the three random ladies down the street would believe me.

Lauren: In all fairness it’s not like they knew she was a curtain monster.  Either that or the dad was just too busy trying to drown his son to notice!

Learning more about the Hempstocks would definitely throw off the point of view Gaiman was working with within this novel, and I think of it a lot like how I understand 300: you really have to remember who the two narrators are.  In 300, the narrator is giving a prebattle pep-talk to the Spartan army, so of course he is going to exaggerate the enemy that the 300 Spartans were capable of fighting back.  At the same time, he’s never seen an elephant before, so it’s going to look like a giant beast to him. Obviously The Ocean at the End of the Lane‘s narrator isn’t in quite the same situation, but it is still the same idea as seeing something new and extraordinary for the first time. With that said, he is a little boy who doesn’t understand this world so his falsified memories wouldn’t bee too extravagant with detail, whereas on the other hand the little he does remember will seem so great to him (like an 11-year-old girl who is so brave in his eyes that he never feels in danger when around here) that it will be emphasized.

With all of that said, I am definitely not opposed to a companion piece all about the Hempstocks! [starts chanting] Spin off! Spin off! Spin off! Alas, I doubt this is in our future, so I will settle for going through all of Gaiman’s back catalog to see what this man has to offer. I’m liking what I’ve seen so far.

Heather: I haven’t given up yet since I’ve heard such great things about him, and I enjoyed this quick read, but I hope his longer books will give me more of the detail I am hoping for! This was a fun (and thought provoking read), but not the best I’ve ever read by a long shot.

Lauren’s final rating: 4 out of 5 stars     
Heather’s final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

2 thoughts on “Book Club in Session: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

  1. Also “not my genre,” but I found this charming and refreshing. I haven’t read (or watched, actually) any other Gaiman works, so maybe that’s why this seemed delightfully different to me. Not my favorite thing ever, but it was an enjoyable read.

  2. I was expecting to enjoy the book quite a bit because I really liked Gaiman’s American Gods and this book has a high rating on GoodReads, but I agree with a lot of what Heather said. I did enjoy the epilogue a lot though. It gave a nice unexpected twist.

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