Over the months of July and August I was reading these books above and reviewing them for myself, Suffolk Book League (who also collaborate with Suffolk Magazine) and Waterstones/ Amazon/Good Reads.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - a review by Meg Burrows
I am an avid fan of Stardust the film. Seeing pirate sky ships, magical spells, real live stars in the form of Claire Daines and Robert De Niro wearing a frock, is just, well, beautiful.
I never knew until recently that it was written by Neil Gaiman, an author who’s name has been dropped into my ears so many times over the last few years. Throughout University I meant to read his material, but other stories and authors would always get in the way. I constantly passed his adverts on tube walls and funnily enough it was the day after seeing the poster for The Ocean at the End of the Lane ( I got very excited by the imagery used in the advert itself) that I heard my local Waterstones book club was reading his new book. I eagerly bought my copy and for a little while simply stared at it. The cover is delightful and engaging and immediately took me to swimming in the ocean. I already knew that I liked Mr Gaiman – he has brilliant designers working with him.
The book itself starts with a narrator driving away from a funeral to a familiar place and reminiscing over his seventh birthday party; a terrible ordeal where no one came. The farm that he finds himself drawn back to is that of the Hempstock Women, three very influential people (the power of three couldn’t be more poignant in this book) in this mans life. He begins to think of Lettie, a remarkable girl he met growing up and what she did for him. What follows is transportation into memories, dreams and forgotten moments into dangerous strange lands of frightening aliens, beautiful moments of heart warming safety and haunting scenarios of betrayal, confusion and anger.
Throughout reading I kept thinking of Coraline and a real sense of fear from a child’s perspective overtook me. The last time that I had felt such active anger towards a character I think it was when I met the horrid Professor Umbridge for the first time. To hook my emotions so quickly and easily, I give my hat to Gaiman; a man who is very in tune with both his characters and readers but also a man who highlights clearly the idea of whether there is such a thing as an adult or just children pretending to be grown up.
The ease at which Gaiman takes the reader from reality to fantasy is incredibly smooth, yet so vivid at the same time. I absolutely loved the metaphorical execution of re-working memory; cutting away the fragments of the unwanted dressing gown and re-sewing it was brilliant. Memory and deciphering between what is real and what isn’t, is so realistically jumbled; how we change and forget and re-assemble our memories in hope of re-capturing the presence of the moment we are remembering. On the back of the book there is the quote that is very apt to the whole book;“ they are memories hard to believe, waiting on the edges of things.”
The use of imagery is so distinct and incredible at times and coincides well with this idea of being on ‘the edge’ of reality, dream, memory and safety. I felt fully immersed into a cartoon at one point, especially concerning the characters Ursula and Lettie.
I would highly recommend this book. I know some hardcore Gaiman fans weren’t as positive but as a first time reader I absolutely loved it and I am extremely excited to read more. It was a brilliant balance between fantasy, thriller, drama and it is filled with so many great snippets, like, a memory. I personally feel that it is more a book for adults willing to delve back into their own past than for children; this book is childhood and I think those that have experienced one will get much more from the story; it’s honest, scary, funny, magical and nostalgic but with the freedom to be as memorable as you want it to be.