As is typical for most writers, I’ve heard of Neil Gaiman. I marveled at his lecture on writing and much of what he has to say about creativity. Oddly, I hadn’t gotten around to reading his work until this week. His book “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” invaded my normal reading schedule by chance. I’ve a colleague at my day job who I chat with about literature every now and again. Just so happened that this colleague had just finished this book and was ready to part with it (he doesn’t keep hard copy books). He handed the book to me on Monday, I started it Tuesday, work kept me busy on Wednesday but I finished it yesterday.
I don’t want to completely tear the book asunder. It doesn’t deserve that. It was a wonderful story, a fantastic fairy tale-esqe story I ultimately enjoyed. There were things about out I couldn’t stand and made it very hard to continue reading, though. Gaiman’s language usage is far from extraordinary, though I get that may be the point. He uses every day language in a repetitive sort of way, and his figures were mostly generic. The story is told from the perspective of a child though, so perhaps that’s the point. I personally found the language boring though.
That aside, the story was exquisite. These fairy tale stories always seem to capture my attention and imagination. It fantastic (literally), it also gets dark. It would be a kind of fairy tale I can see becoming a new English tradition. It kept me in suspense, and the pay off was more-or-less satisfying.
There was one quote in particular that adhered itself in my mind after I read it. It’s been said other ways of course, but Gaiman worded it in just a way to make me stop in my tracks and think about what he’d said.
“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath the rhododendrons, to find the space between the fences.”
There isn’t any spectacular imagery here. In fact I find his usage of commas to be excessive and irritating. Despite that, the quote grabbed me. I can picture children playing, content to go as they please. While an adult follows routine incessantly. I get it. I’ve been a child before and I’m an adult now. I’ve lost a bit of my desire to explore which Gaiman is rightfully seeing as a fault in adults. To describe new adventures as space between the fences is a very interesting choice as it evokes childhood again. A child can only explore when they can squeeze out of the fence that keeps them in the comfortable yard. I think this is a wonderful quote by Gaiman and for sure the best in the book.
Here’s another quote that I like because it felt like it was addressing me directly:
Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet but they are never lost for good.”
Things evoke memories. Until then the memories are vague suggestions of things that might’ve happened. Like reading a journal entry from years ago and magically being able to recall the exact sensory experience of that day.
This work by Gaiman was pretty hot and cold. I understand that it was geared toward a younger crowd and I do give it credit that it was spectacular for what it set out to accomplish. I also feel I’ve been harsh on this novel throughout. I read with a critical eye long before I let the story envelope me. I would recommend the book, though. I actually, handed the book to someone else who seemed interested to read it. In that sort of way the book will continue being passed on for a while.
If there’s a book you want me to read next, or disagree with what I’ve to say about The Ocean at the End of the Lane, let me know in the comments. Thank you as always for reading.