Sunday, March 9, 2014

Memory, Magic & Loss in "The Ocean at the End of the Lane"

Neil Gaiman has proven himself a master of fantasy with stunning, ambitious works such as Stardust (1999), The Graveyard Book (2008) and American Gods (2001), as well as the long running comic book saga of The Sandman (1989-1996). Now, he takes us on a journey of memory, lost love & magic in The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013). The story concerns a man (who is never named) who returns to his hometown for a funeral. He’s been away from home a long time. While there, he remembers a friend named Lettie, who had told him things like the pond behind her house was really an ocean. He stops to visit her home, and encounters a member of her family. He recalls a magical adventure they shared during his childhood.

Thus begins a wonderful tale of good versus evil, told through the eyes of the narrator, as he relates what happened when he was a seven year old. As a child, he had lost himself in books & marvelous tales of magic & wonder. He suddenly found himself in the middle of an adventure right out of one of his beloved stories, as an evil force tried to break through into our world, and only Lettie & her family stood against it. Our narrator learned some hard truths about the adult world, as well as the mystical one where Lettie’s family originates. In a way, they become his surrogate family during the wondrous events of the story. And though his eyes are opened to a larger world of possibility, this adventure truly signals the end of his innocence.

Gaiman spins a fantastical tale that has moments of awe, beauty & wonder. It's truly a memory piece, shot through with beauty, joy, fear, sadness & love. He deftly captures the essence & emotion of the young heroes of the novel, and we see things through their eyes. The story is tinged with a hint of melancholy, as the narrator thinks back on these events, and realizes there are some moments that you don’t get back, but which affect you for the rest of your life. I don’t want to say too much about the plot or story, as the joy of reading this book is discovering its unique pleasures for yourself. If you’re a Gaiman fan, you’ll find much to enjoy in this novel. But if you’re new to the author’s world, and enjoy well written tales of fantasy, with a powerful emotional center, I highly recommend The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It's a book that will stay with you long after you finish it.

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