The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Book Review)

Happy Halloween!

ocean_at_the_end_of_the_lane_us_cover

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

 

Favourite Quotes

“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)

Overall score

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.

Footnotes:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series Review

Happy Monday and Labor Day for my American readers.

hitchhikers (test)

This info-graph is a general overview of the series.

The Hitchhiker’s guide has an interesting history beginning as a pitch for a 6 part series called “The Ends of the Earth” where the earth ends at the end of each episode surly many of them end on a stupid Thursday(1).  This idea eventually evolved into what we have here today and then some(2) including the movie adaptation of the first book.

This series has a pretty close place to my heart and I have a pretty long history with it, probably the longest/first bookmance(3) I’ve ever had.  I remember when I was a kid, somewhere around 13-15 years old, my dad gave me the first Hitchhiker’s guide book.

hitchhikers guide to the galaxy book cover

This is the cover art my dad’s copy had. Still my favourite of the versions.  Look at that meaty hand.

It might have been my first literary brush with literary si-fi, I was brought up on Red Dwarf(4) so I was well prepared, and it was good. Really good.

hitchhikers guide to the galaxy book cover3

This is the cover art my best friend in middle school (ages 11-14ish) in school had. Clearly inferior to the original.

My dad had all the rest of the original books up to So Long and Thanks For All the Fish and I ate them all up. I have specific memories of reading these books in school and literally laughing out loud involuntarily in class.  I’m pretty easy to laugh(5) but usually I’m pretty good at restraining my self in public but this book got me several times.  Even on revisits.

hitchhikers guide to the galaxy collection book cover

My first copy of the omni-bus.

Fast forward a few years and I’m at a book store, constantly building my library (sometimes I like to think about the day when I have enough books, that I’ve actually read AND enjoy no cheating with “the entire Steven King collection”, to make a book fort(6)), and I see this almost biblical looking version of the collection which was really nice because it came with a tassel bookmark.  This copy got donated after the first or second library purge(7) and in the last year since getting back into school I’ve begun replacing or obtaining copies of books I remember reading and enjoying but had borrowed from a friend or the library and this series was recommended to me on amazon.

This is my third and most recent re-reading of the series and I’ve had mixed reactions.  At first I was totally pumped to read this thinking I would blow through it in a few weeks but it ended up taking me about two months to read 815 pages +/- 20 pages because they count the title and dedication pages in between each book and most of that was spent trudging through Life, The Universe, and Everything.  However we will get to that in time.  The good news is that this series starts and ends pretty strongly (see info-graph above).

As in Adams style(8), over the next 7 weeks I will present to you:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Ultimate Review:

A 7 part review in 8 parts

Tune in next week for part II: The actual review for The Hitchhiker’s to the Galaxy the book.

Footnotes:

  1. The Earth is destroyed on a Thursday afternoon several times in the series.
  2. As I learned in researching this article that there has been yet another novel added to the series called “…and another thing.” which, I personally, do not count as cannon and will not likely read the reasons for which will become clear as this series progresses.
  3. If we can have words like “bromance“, which I reluctantly have adopted in specific situations, I’m championing the word “bookmance”.   I’ve submitted a definition to urban dictionary and I might adopt the word for one year for 25$ on wordnik, my favourite dictionary site.  Depends on if urban diction approves.
  4. I have so many fond memories of late night Sunday, kind of like tonight actually (as I write this that is), as a kid with my parents watching the foreign shows on PBS channel nine like Red Dwarf (British) and The Red Green Show (Canadian).  These came on, if I remember right, after the X-Files on Sunday nights.  Sometimes we would order Cecil’s or Imo’s Pizza, St Louis Style pizza, and it was pretty much the best.  I have a lot of television related memories, more the scheduling aspects rather than the shows them selves.  I don’t know, there’s an essay memoir in there. Something in Infinite Jest rattled it loose.  Stay tuned.
  5. I read a snapple facts once “Snapple fact #831: Adults laugh only about 15 to 100 times a day, while six-year-olds laugh an average of 300 times a day.”  and I keep meaning to start a data crunch project on this, I keep track of other things in my journal.  Another thing for the list.
  6. book fort
  7. As a minimalist I have regular purge events where I strip down to bare essentials however in the last major purge I decided to begin building a library rather than holding on to a few prized pieces, however I do prune it regularly.
  8. His series started as a trilogy and remains to be frequently refereed to as a trilogy because humour.