Monday, October 20, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

The last book I read by Neil Gaiman was Anansi Boys.  For some reason I have never reviewed it.  That's unfortunate, for the book was worthy, but I don't think I'll get to it now.  The book I'm here to review is this year's Nebula nominee, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, available as an e-book from my library, which is a great thing.

Our protagonist is departing from a funeral.  Obviously someone close to him, as he appears to have arranged the funeral.  But we don't really find out who it is.  He drifts away from the funeral and ends up at the Hempstock farm, where he has a Proust moment.  Sitting on a bench by the duck pond, he recalls extraordinary events from when he visited there at seven years old.  He meets Lettie Hempstock, the 3rd generation of Hempstock women at the farm.  Together they take on a creature from an alternate world that comes to "give everyone what they want", only it does it poorly.  He is not much use, but is a good friend to Lettie.

The book is beautifully written, as Gaiman's fiction always is.  Compared to Anansi Boys, though, it just feels a couple of sizes smaller.  There's action, adventure, and strong characters, but all somewhat less.  The protagonist is something of a cipher, and though that's quite intentional it leaves something of a hole in the middle of the book. 

What makes it worthwhile, and why I still give it four stars, is the careful thought and wonderful writing that is fully present.  It's a great example of how to write a novel, and yet it's something of a toss-off for Gaiman--the casual backhand down the line, chip shot to within an inch, or easy swing for a home run.  Four stars.  Go read it, it won't take long.

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