Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This is not a studied review so much as a “first impressions” sort of post, because this is a book that I think I am going to have to reread at least once.

I love Neil Gaiman and all his work, and I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time, ever since he posted on his Tumblr about the short story called “Lettie Hempstock’s Ocean” that had transformed into a novel. I’ve been working my way through most of his other work and I was so excited to have something new. I preordered the signed first edition and everything.

I think it’s inevitable that with such high expectations things would not turn out quite as I imagined. I was not disappointed–the book was as brilliant as everyone said it would be. But I was surprised.

I don’t know why I was surprised. I had read from several people, including Neil himself, that this book was unlike anything else he’s ever written. It’s not that it didn’t feel Gaiman-y–it had a lot of the things Neil includes in a lot of his work, like magic and mystery, darkness and scary things. If anything, this book maybe felt more Gaiman-y than a lot of his other work, in that it felt a lot more like Neil telling a story in his own voice. The voice, for whatever reason, sounded to me much more like Neil in his blog or on Tumblr and much less like Neil Gaiman, capitalized.

The story of the book is not overly complicated, but is also very difficult to describe without giving everything away. In short: after his father’s funeral the narrator returns to the lane where he grew up and goes to the house at the end of the lane where his friend Lettie used to live. He sits by the pond–which Lettie always insisted was an ocean–and as he sits he remembers the impossible, scary, fantastic things that happened to him when he was seven years old, when he first met Lettie and was pulled into a world of magic and danger that he did not understand.

The book actually had a bit of a slow start for me, maybe because it wasn’t quite what I expected, or maybe because I had such high expectations to start with. But it’s the kind of book that creeps up on you until you suddenly realize you’re in the middle of a really fascinating story. Neil has such a brilliant way of weaving together the ordinary and the extraordinary, making the magical happenings feel, in their own strange way, perfectly normal. It’s my favorite sort of magic in stories–the kind that’s not made with magic wands and lots of flash, but the sort that simply happens.┬áThe Hempstock women–Lettie, her mother, and grandmother–kind of embody this: they are wonderfully no-nonsense and capable, and are also much more than they initially appear.

That’s kind of a thing that runs through the whole book–everything you think is simple turns out to be more than it appears. Even the framing device of the older narrator remembering the events of his childhood turns into something much more than your basic “I remember when” storytelling tool. The ending, when you go back to the narrator sitting on the bench as an adult, actually turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the book, when everything came together and I just had this moment of “Oh! THAT’S IT!” And of course, there’s the mythical undertones I love so much in his work and some pretty incisive observations on what the world of grown-ups looks like to a child, all rolled up with a healthy dose of scary/creepy/jesuschristneilhowdoesyourbraincomeupwiththatandstillsleep incidents.

I can’t wait to read it again and see what I find the second time through.


A small rehearsal tale

Yeah….I skipped last week. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just not built for this sort of routine.

BUT I have posts in the works for later this week, and maybe there will even be another Fiction Friday! (no promises though)

I’ve just finished the second week of rehearsals for Twelfth Night, my summer show. It’s been a bit weird, mostly because we are rehearsing (and will be performing) in a public park, and so not only do we have to deal with the usual outside things (wet grass, losing light, mosquitos), but we also have to periodically try to discourage dogs and teenagers from encroaching on our space. Add to that the fact that we only just got our storage space for props and things this week (and I was SO glad to get them out of my car) and that we have to lug everything up a hill to said storage every night, and let’s just say it’s taken some getting used to.

But something happened at rehearsal yesterday that made me feel a little better about it. We were rehearsing as usual; it had been pretty quiet, and everything was going well. Now that we’ve gotten the initial blocking done, we’ve been having a good time playing with things and going more in depth with the scenes.

So we’re going through a scene when a gaggle of kids come running down the hill, and I sigh internally because we might have to ask them to leave if they start screaming (as five to seven year olds sometimes do). But our artistic director, who was there watching for the evening, went and talked to them, and eventually something kind of cool happened: the kids sat down with her and started to watch our rehearsal.

I don’t know how much they got, really–it is Shakespeare, and they were, as I said, quite young–but they were quiet, and when I looked back at them they seemed to be enjoying themselves. They even asked questions about the play, and our artistic director talked to them about it.

It was something very small, but I thought it was cool that we were something these kids just stumbled across, and that they seemed to get a kick out of watching what must have looked like a very elaborate game of pretend. Maybe they’ll even come see the play when it’s finished. But even if they don’t, it was really awesome to see these kids sitting there being entertained by our rehearsal of this 400 year old play.

Probably I will still complain about having to strike our set every night and chase gangs of kids on bicycles away from our space. But I guess there can be good things about rehearsing so publicly. (I realized that our rehearsals could sort of act an on going advert for the performances, since we’re always explaining to a few curious folk what we’re doing). Now if only we could do something about the mosquitos…