My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have always had a little problem with Neil Gaiman. He’s one of these prolific authors who I really want to like more than I actually do. I think everyone has one author that makes them feel that way at least once in their life. What makes it worse, is that everyone I know adores him. I mean, the man is a living legend with a body of work that boasts of The Sandman and American Gods (which is being turned into an epic series by Amazon Prime!) So as you might expect, I feel a little bit left out at times.
So imagine my delight at picking up The Ocean and the End of the Lane and discovering that I had found the perfect ‘Gaiman’ story. I can wholeheartedly say that this is a tale full of magic and wonderment that captures the essence of childhood – which is no mean feat when you are an adult trying to remember back to the golden age of your life. His storytelling is absolutely effortless here, I couldn’t spot a single snag (and that is not always the case).
The plot explores the dark shadows that stalk the corners of a child’s imagination. Our protagonist is a young boy who in the true nature of gothic fiction, is nameless. The story is told through a series of flashbacks, the beginning roof which is triggered by the aftermath of a funeral, as our unnamed protagonist seeks the comfort of his childhood days. He finds himself in front of the house he was brought up in and the memories begin to flood back, especially when he seeks out a puddle in the road that was called ‘the ocean’ by a distant childhood friend.
The story from here, melts into the past, and we are plunged into the distinctively sensory world of the adolescent. The imagery here is especially impressive, as the sights and sounds of the countryside, the cottages, nature itself are ‘painted’ so that I almost felt like I was there.
Yet everyone knows that the world of a child isn’t wholly safe or innocent – and Gaiman artfully turns the world of our protagonist upside down, shocking the reader with just how dangerous and inappropriate it could get.
Of course, this is a fantasy story – but I think everyone can relate to it, especially if they (like me) had an overactive imagination and could switch from reality to the make-believe world at the blink of an eye. A dandelion could become a wand, a fairy could be hiding behind a fallen rose petal, a tree trunk could have a hidden face in it. Thus Gaiman builds a world where our protagonist shows us how a child met a family of witches, and survived (barely) to tell the tale.
The most admirable thing about this story, is the potential for it to be carried on. I have so many questions about this world of witchcraft and magic, especially the way things work. Just how old are the wise women? What kind of creatures live in the fold between our world and theirs? I just hope there is a follow up to this, because it would make such an awesome series.