For the record, Halloween is my favourite holiday and in celebration of the creepy-crawly holiday I’m reviewing a book about children, deities, and monsters: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. (WARNING POSSIBLE SPOILERS)
Three Sentence Summary
- A man drives around in the rain in England going to a funeral but instead takes a detour to the farm house at the end of the lane from his childhood home and begins remembering back to his childhood about the residents of the farmhouse and the strange events revolving them.
The main body of the narrative takes place in the narrator’s childhood memory about how a miner came to rent a room in his parents house and ends up committing suicide over money issues which allows a monster thing to come into the world and gift people with money in unpleasant ways, one of those unpleasant ways happens to the narrator when he wakes up with a coin lodged deep in his throat and tells his neighbors, three ladies of sliding scale ages, about this which then results in a hunt to banish the monster however by happenstance the monster is able to make a wormhole in the boy’s foot and the next day manifests as the boy’s new awful nanny.
The monster turned nanny does a lot of weird and bad things to the family but mostly directs her malevolence towards they boy who is the only one who can sense that there’s something wrong with this woman-like-thing and tries to confine him to his room in order to keep him safe/alive because he serves as a doorway back to the other world if she needs it however ultimately the boy escapes and runs to the sanctuary of the farmhouse and the three ladies extract the worm hole from the boy and summon carrion bird-monsters who eat other monsters and…existence, apparently…and they want to eat they boy’s heart as well since it still contains some of the nanny-monster-thing still however the youngest of the three ladies sacrifices her self to save the boy and takes a long nap in the ocean at the end of the lane.
Thoughts and Analysis
This is my third Gaiman book. The first one I read was Neverwhere, the second was American Gods, and now this one. I have to say up front: I’m not in the Gaiman
cult fan club. I’ve generally enjoyed his books in the same way I enjoyed taking calculus: I enjoyed it but I wouldn’t do it again.
One thing I really enjoy about Gaiman novels is how rich they are with mythology and mystery, frequently he blends a mix of gods and monsters borrowed from history and imagination and creates a backdrop that feels like a dark modern fairy tale. However what I don’t enjoy about Gaiman’s style is everyone of his main character protagonists feel so flat and forgettable almost to the point where I feel like the narrator is more a vessel in which to deliver the story rather than pushing the plot along. However given how the book ends, it is heavily implied that the carrion birds ate most of the boy’s heart, the emotionless blithe that composes the boy grown up personality makes sense. The guy’s missing a heart, of course he’s nonchalant, bland, and ultimately boring. This emotionlessness in the narrator makes it really hard for me to care about the protagonist (I feel like that’s almost too strong of a word to describe the narrator, he’s not a good guy or a bad guy or lovable or hate-able he’s just a place holder) and the really sad things that happen to him.
“As we age, we become our parents; live long enough and we see faces repeat in time.” p6
“I helped her put the flowers into the vases, and she asked my opinion on where to put the vases in the kitchen. We placed the vases where I suggested, and I felt wonderfully important.” p33
“My bed was pushed up hard against the wall just below the window. I loved to sleep with the windows open. Rainy nights were the best of all: I would open my windows and put my head on my pillow and close my eyes and feel the wind on my face and listen to the trees sway and creak. There would be raindrops blown onto my face, too, if I was lucky, and I would imagine that I was in my boat on the ocean and it was swaying with the swell of the sea.” p60 (1)
“It was the kind of cloudy night where the clouds seem to gather up light from distant streetlights and houses below, and throw it back at the earth.” p79
“Oh, monsters are scared…That’s why they’re monsters.” p112
“If you have something specific and visible to fear, rather than something that could be anything, it is easier.” p138
“A story matters…to the extent that people in the story change…[but] I was the same person at the end of it that I was at the beginning.” p170 (2)
The brevity of the story, under 200 pages including epilogue, and the mythology tidbits helps the score however ultimately the flat characters and plot driven story cancel out the bonus. Since I didn’t mind reading the book but wouldn’t re-read it (I might end up donating it before leaving for England) nor do I feel comfortable recommending it to anyone who’s not already a Gaiman fan I can only give this book a middle of the road 3 out of 5.
- In one of my old apartments I used to have this massive walk-in closet that had a window and I would sleep in the closet under the window and it was really wonderful when it was raining because the rain would blow in but because of the blinds and the bug screen the rain drops wouldn’t ever be more than mist. I miss that room sometimes, the closet. I named that room “tallow” after reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things.
- I think this is one of the axiomatic reasons I generally have no desire to re-read Gaiman books: his characters don’t change. Like at all. They’re just listless people at the beginning where some pretty awful things happen to and they experience some otherworldly struggles however they them selves are the same exact people at the end as the beginning which makes me feel like there wasn’t a reason to tell the story in the first place.