By Neil Gaiman
I have a bit of a love–hate relationship with Neil Gaiman. I loved the Sandman series, of course, and American Gods, and I hated his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors. All of his other stuff sort of falls between those two extremes, and The Ocean at The End of the Lane is pretty smack dab in the middle.
It is quite short, less than 200 pages; really more of a novella, despite “A Novel” being printed on the cover right under the title. And to go off on a side rant: I hate novellas! Somehow they are always both too long and too short. Like, authors write short stories to be compact and novels to be all-encompassing, but novellas pretty much always fail at both, and seem like initial outlines for a full novel. I almost always end up feeling like I’m reading an incomplete work and it has been a waste of my time. I then get sulky about the author being lazy, and bitter about the state of publishing, and it all cycles down from there, so novellas are not my thing.
So, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about this one, but I follow Neil Gaiman on twitter, and lots of people were raving about it. When I ran across it in the library, I figured I’d give it a shot, since I really did like American Gods and this seemed all fantastical, too.
It was okay. It starts off pretty slow, with the narrator reflecting back on the summer when he was seven, when a boarder in his house dies, kicking off a string of supernatural events. He meets his mysterious neighbors, a family of three-generational women including a girl just a few years older than him, and helps them try to contain the odd happenings. It all takes some time to get rolling, but by the middle, the story is quite engaging, though at times I felt it followed a very standard “yellow brick road” narrating style, as the two children walk a path into another reality, and must deal with one strange thing after another.
Gaiman does introduce some quite intriguing characters and imagery that simply don’t have the space to really grow to their full potential in such a short book. It ends up feeling a bit like Chis Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, in which the readers must flesh out the story on their own, and it makes me bitter, having to put all this unexpected work into a story. I just told Tom that this review was circling the drain, and he commented that while I often talk about how much I like Gaiman, I don’t really like the majority of his work, so I guess maybe I’m not really a fan at all. Oh, well.
I liked this book more than you did, but in general I think I like Neil Gaiman more than like Neil Gaiman’s writing.
Also, as I mentioned, I got way more interested in this book after reading a whole thing about how it reflected his Scientologist past:
Ooh, intriguing! I have to say that this gives me mixed feelings, again, about The Ocean at The End of the Lane; on the one hand, this backstory does make the actually story a lot more intriguing (and cohesive), but on the other hand, I don’t feel like I should have to know relatively unknown autobiographic details about the author in order to be able to understand the book. So, I loved reading the article, but am still not cutting Gaiman any slack.