A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Author Neil Gaiman’s wife, musician Amanda Palmer, says in her blog that there is a certain amount of distance between an artist’s reality, and the art that they create. This distance varies from artist to artist, ranging from art that’s lightly mixed with pieces of reality still recognizable, to art that’s fully smooth and blended, leaving little indication of its true ingredients. Amanda describes herself as the type of artist who only lets things “mix very slightly,” whereas Neil is the type to crank things up into a full puree.
In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Gaiman’s first adult novel in eight years, the author leaves his story a little less well blended than usual, using recognizable parts of his own childhood to weave a spell-binding, fantastical story about a man remembering the strange, frightening and magical set of events that occurred when he was only seven years old.
When he was a boy, Neil dreamed up a family called the Hempstocks, that lived on an empty farm at the end of the real lane he lived on. In Ocean, our narrator and stand-in for the author recalls how, as a young boy, he was befriended by eleven year old Lettie Hempstock, who lives on the fictional version of the farm with her mother Ginny Hempstock, and her grandmother, Old Mrs. Hempstock. An odd set of events are put into motion by a man renting a room from the narrator’s parents, and only the Hempstocks can help set things right again.
The novel evokes a kind of earthy folk magic, and that’s what the Hempstocks use to clean up messes like the one this story is about. It’s a magic where nursery rhymes have power, protection means keeping hold of your friend’s hand, and editing out a piece of time only takes cutting and stitching back together a piece of cloth. The monsters are not really monsters, but they are bothersome, mischievous creatures with their own needs and purposes. Gaiman is highly skilled at creating these kinds of stories, ones in which events are both fantastic and well-grounded at the same time. It’s enchanting, and prickles our imagination, but is told in the same low-key and matter-of-fact way that Lettie informs our boy-narrator of her farm pond that’s actually an ocean. And we completely accept it. How could we resist?
If you’re already a Neil Gaiman fan, you won’t need much encouragement to pick up this latest novel. It’s also recommended for any readers who enjoy magical yet realistic stories, the type that recall the best kind of folk and fairy tales that feel both otherworldly and yet somehow true at the same time.
Review by: Rachel