I have been giving myself a little bit of time to allow this book to soak in and to decide how I would approach reviewing it. I'll say here that I loved Gaiman's newest work, but it's how to say it that I am pondering.
I think I'm not even going to give you any sort of plot details because that's how I approached the book--I avoided reading blurbs and summaries and reviews that gave out even tiny details of the plot because I wanted the book to be unshaped by others' perspectives. I mentioned in my previous review for The Shining Girls how the blurb made the book eminently more interesting than the book actually was; I just wanted to approach The Ocean at the End of the Lane completely without bias.
The best way to describe the book in one word is, I think, "mythic". mythic in the sense that the story is fascinating and matter-of-fact and instructive and explanatory and agelessly impactful. That's certainly how it felt when I was reading it and that's how it feels now when I'm thinking about it. If you've had any experience with Neil Gaiman's prose before, you'll know what's coming: it's that casual blending of fantasy into reality that you might encounter in Coraline or Neverwhere but this time it feels different somehow. I've seen a lot of reviews saying that this work is Gaiman's most personal, his most intimate, and I guess that's the best way to describe it.
The novel is short--less than 200 pages--but it's amazing how much the author can accomplish in such a tight, controlled space. The Ocean at the End of the Lane feels spare and dense all at once, replete with dazzling description and powerful meditations on youth, family life and memory. Some of the concrete details are missing, which was a problem for some readers, I noticed, but not for me. It's all part of the dreamlike nature of the book--it swallows you and immerses you and, truly like a dream or a long-faded memory, you can't gather every detail.
Gaiman's newest book enchanted me in the truest sense of the word; it's the kind of book that you don't finish and say "wow, that was awesome, I totally loved it", but the sort of novel that days, weeks, months later will resurface in your mind to haunt you and captivate you all over again. For me in particular, some of the book's themes resonated with me very deeply, and while that might not be the case for every reader, I think it's very easy to allow oneself into the Hempstock family's farm as though it were your own.
I have been trying really hard to communicate how ensnared I felt when I read the book and in the days that have followed; the best way for me to describe it is like when you're treading water and it's all around you and it seems endless and vast. Saying it that way seems cheap and cheesy because, well, it's called The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but it's the best I can do. It's clear I'm just not worthy enough of properly reviewing a Neil Gaiman book, especially one of this magnitude.
My rating: 5/5
The Ocean at the End of the Lane on Goodreads
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