Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Number of Pages: 256
The unnamed protagonist of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a seven-year-old boy, is one of the bravest children in recent fiction. This brief novel has the vibe of a dark fairy tale, although not as dark as, say, something like Pan’s Labyrinth. It tells the story of a young boy’s battle against seemingly unsurmountable odds when a otherworldly creature with a knack for giving people ‘exactly what they want’ insinuates itself into the child’s house as a nanny and seduces his father.
All the kid has are his smarts, his love of literature, and all the courage he can muster, not the mention the protection of a very special girl named Lettie Hempstock, who has been eleven for a long time and is the youngest member of a trio of strange, witchlike women. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is imaginative and compulsively readable, I tend to take a while to finish books but I finished this one in three days. It’s not as good as the other book I read by Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere, but admittedly Neverwhere is a tough act to follow.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane lacks the humor of Neverwhere for the most part, but it still has a handful of chuckle worthy scenes. One minor quibble I had was that I think the main character should have been a little older, he seemed developmentally inappropriate for a seven-year-old. I kept thinking he might be better off being about twelve, especially because of his level of self-sufficiency, which strained credulity at times for a child that young.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a bit too adult for kids, but teenagers who enjoy science fiction and fantasy will find a lot to love about this book. Admittedly, fantasy isn’t normally my genre of choice (I really liked it as a kid, but now I prefer books with more realistic plotlines) but I really enjoyed this one. Apparently this novel is being adapted into a film directed by Joe Wright, and while I’d definitely be interested in seeing what he does with it, The Ocean at the End of the Lane seems like the kind of story that would play better in your imagination than on screen.
CGI doesn’t seem like it can adequately bring the mental pictures this novel summons to life, but maybe I’ll end up being surprised. I can see why Gaiman is so popular, he’s an incredibly imaginative writer that combines the wondrous nature of lighter fantasy with the unsettling darkness of dark fantasy to pleasing effect. I would recommend that you read this book and when you finish it I highly recommend Neverwhere, which is one of my favorite fantasy novels of all time. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a good introduction to Neil Gaiman (it’s a great deal shorter than Neverwhere) and both are excellent choices for either adults or teens that like fantasy novels with a genuine spark of originality.
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