Neil Gaiman Ocean at the End of the Lane – Review

Ocean at the End of the Lane

Even though the easiest thing to distract a child, from pretty much anything, is to offer them ice-cream, being a child can be very terrifying. Let’s face it, most of the things that happened are long forgotten or rather repressed. So what do we really remember about our childhood when we look back?

I was very excited when Neil Gaiman published a new book for adults. I didn’t know what to expect. He had mentioned in one of his interviews, before the publication, that The Ocean at the End of the Lane was never supposed to be a full length novel, but a short story for his wife. Also, it was a twist on his childhood memories – not an autobiography, but the world seen through the eyes of a young Neil Gaiman.

The main character, a bookish boy with no friends, gets caught in a crossfire between his childlike imagination and curiosity, and the oppressing world of adults. Having an annoying sister is difficult, but losing his own room and having to share one with her when their parents rent out his to a lodger is a nightmare. South African opal miner brings disaster to the family from day one. Adults don’t seem to understand that pets can’t be easily replaced and the philosophy of ‘a cat for a cat’ doesn’t work. It is not the same cat! Books are the only friends of the main character. Not a single person turned up for his birthday – I loved the nostalgic description of the unattended party with a birthday cake with a book on it. Only bookworms might understand how unlikely it was to have friends when most of the time was spent befriending fictional characters.

When the opal miner departs, the boy finds a friend in a remarkable girl who lives in a nearby farm. Sudden changes caused by unexpected events push the two children closer together. Less than convenient circumstances prove to be a very good opportunity to cement the friendship and stand together to face the unknown danger. I love Gaiman’s effortless way of merging different worlds. The boy and Lettie Hempstock, his new best friend – his only friend, find themselves surrounded by strange creatures that inhabit the world’s dimensions which are not accessible without magic, or maybe they were always there and no one knew. But who is his friend really? Lettie seems to be older than she looks. She knows far more than a little girl should and she claims that the pond behind the farm is her ocean. Her mum and granny remember things nobody else can from absolutely ages ago.

During one of their adventures something happened and everything changed. The vacant lodger place was taken immediately by the mysterious Ursula Monkton. She proves to be sickly sweet – simply too sweet to be real – and she has everybody under her thumb except the boy. Strange things keep happening and only he can see the difference. He faces utter betrayal from his family and an unimaginable fear of imminent violence and danger ready to be served as punishment for his disobedience. Being a child is like being a drop of water in the ocean – everything around is huge, magnified and intensified. Parents are scary big people with no imagination, who must have the last word in every argument. Even the smallest shadows can induce the most gruesome night terrors. As if he wasn’t scared enough already, the main character finds out that he holds a vital key to everything that changed – he might have to die to put everything back together the way it should be.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is full of juvenile melancholy and terrifying darkness. Darkness as we know from dreadful fairy tales. Those that would leave you terrorised for days.

The darkness was stirred and things that ripped the veil between the worlds endangered the existence of the planet and lives of everybody. The creation of the world described by Gaiman is simply amazing. The wonderfully beautiful and dangerous creatures, called varmints, can either restore order or devour the world as we know it. Lettie and the boy keep fighting but fear and destruction can unexpectedly make people over cowardly or brave. In the spur of a moment, one action leads to terrifying consequences. The friendship is tested by the utmost sacrifice that leaves you with a tear or two rolling lonely down your cheek to avenge the hero.

Gaiman describes what his childhood was like through the eyes of this little boy who one summer gained so much and lost even more. This compelling story threw me back to my childhood and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to tackle what I faced. Things which are best left untouched, but things nevertheless that make you the person you are through this incredible journey from curious childhood, through darkness, to an adulthood full of uncertainty, regret and unfulfilled expectations.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an extraordinary book that tackles the transition between the world seen by a child to the world of an adult. Neil Gaiman discussed this book and the importance of childhood memories with psychologist and writer, Charles Fernyhough, during their event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August this year. They talked about the intricate way how memories are either forgotten or repressed during the process of growing up but how they can be triggered and revived by certain feelings, smells etc. Also, how important they might be.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a brilliant book full of superb fantasy, Gaiman-style, with a compelling story of ultimate sacrifice and growing up to be who one wants to be despite, sometimes unreasonable, expectations of the world. I love the language and sheer honesty with which the story is relayed. I found myself thinking about my own childhood for a long time after I finished the book. The characters are outstanding. Immortal inhabitants of the Hempstock farm are astonishing and incredibly fascinating. I need to admit I adore varmints, the hunger birds. The book brought Chagall paintings and Poe’s writing to my mind – the hazy style of mystery and dread – as if it could have just been a dream. It was a very different book to other ones written by Neil Gaiman – maybe because of the very personal touch to the story. However, I absolutely adored the book because of the story itself and because of the brilliant characters and atmosphere that was both delightful and terrifying or simply delightfully terrifying – just the way Gaiman conjures the wor(l)ds.

I would recommend the book not only to fans of Neil Gaiman but to anybody who would like a magical journey back in time to when life was much simpler, yet more complicated.

Author: Neil Gaiman

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Publisher: Headline Review

Format: Hardback, 256 pages

Published: 18/06/2013

ISBN: 9781472200310 (Hardback)


Winona Kent Persistence of Memory – Review

Persistence of Memory

The Future of Stoneford, a small English village, might pretty much be decided. A future that would have a significant effect on its inhabitants. Some of them would receive a big financial gain, whereas others would end up homeless. Charlie Lowe, a local museum worker, not wanting to feel helpless, decides to take actions which would complicate the situation and affect her in a major way. Being a village historian, Charlie is as familiar with relations between the people of Stoneford, as she is with the various other historical facts that with time, have led to the current predicament. She is desperate to save the village and the village oak. Although she is well liked in Stoneford, she seems to keep to herself, and her cousin, Nick, appears to be her closest friend.

As frustration gets the better of Charlie she waits for the consequences of her actions to catch up with her. She tries to find more information – researching her family tree in the hope that questions might be answered which could help save the village. In the meantime, a big storm passes Stoneford that triggers a virus software malfunction which results in Charlie being thrown back in time to Regency era England. This opens up new possibilities and challenges.

Whatever happens in 19th Century Stoneford might have dramatic effects on the future. However, Charlie knows well that meddling in the history would definitely cause more trouble, or even total chaos. With her hands tied, she manages to adapt to her new reality, meet her ancestors, fall in love and contribute to the eventual outcome in a way that would not adversely affect the future. As impossible as it sounds, tech-savvy Nick finds a way to communicate with Charlie. She might want to save the village she loves, but she will also face a huge dilemma which could change the history and make her face a life or death situation. Also her new love interest, Mr Deeley, seems to be in a catch-22 situation with no possible solution on the horizon. Is history going to be inevitably changed because a girl interrupted it, or maybe the interpretation of history has many different layers of understanding?

The story is told by the intertwining events of Stoneford in 21st and 19th Centuries. There are lots of humorous situations – Charlie is not the only one that seems to be personally affected by the virus that transported her back in time. Life in rural Stoneford is well portrayed. There are some interesting sub-plots, e.g. the alienation of gypsy people and the independence of women.

The book is an interesting and very funny read. The characters have fascinating qualities and make the read very enjoyable. I loved the humour immensely and the descriptions of Stoneford in 19th Century are wonderful. Some parts of the book (mostly descriptions of the characters) seem to be written more like a screenplay, however, it doesn’t affect the story in a major way. Persistence of Memory was primarily written as a screenplay, but later re-written as a novel. There’s only one thing that I struggled to understand which almost spoilt it for me. As most of the characters of the book are quite understanding towards the time travel aspect and quite engrossed in it, how could they not see the difference between two women who were switched at the time when one of them was going back in time and the other one travelled to the future? Then I remembered one of my favourite French comedies, Les Visiteurs, where Jean Reno as a Medieval Comte de Montmirail is thrown into the future where he’s mistaken for a cousin of one of the main characters – the resemblance was just uncanny. Persistence of Memory is just full of comedy situations and laugh out loud moments. It doesn’t matter that some things may seem improbable, the book is entertaining and the story is told in an intriguing storytelling language.

Persistence of Memory is a charming and quirky book, which will make you laugh and make you think what you would do if you could go back and have an opportunity to save the day. Those who like Austenesque romance will love it.

Author: Winona Kent

Title: Persistence of Memory

Publisher: Fable Press

Format: Kindle Edition, 356 pages

Published: 22/08/2013

ISBN: 1939897068