Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman weaves fairy tale elements into contemporary Sussex in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. A man revisits the place of his rural childhood and looks back on the ominous events that took place when he was seven. He was a boy who loved cats and books.

"I liked myths. They weren't adult stories and they weren't children's stories. They were better than that. They just were."

Three Hempstocks live at the farm at the end of the lane. They are straight out of  mythology: maiden, mother and crone. The youngest, eleven-year-old Lettie, is the boy's friend. 

"I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I found joy in the things that made me happy. The custard was sweet and creamy in my mouth, the dark swollen currants in the spotted dick were tangy in the cake-thick chewy blandness of the pudding, and perhaps I was going to die that night and perhaps I would never go home again, but it was a good dinner and I had faith in Lettie Hempstock."

(I immediately wanted my own dish of pudding. A recipe can be found here.)

As with many of Gaiman's stories, this slim and haunting novel is suitable for a wide age range, about 10 and up.

Readalikes. In trying to come up with similar titles, the first ones that come to mind are, unsurprisingly, by Gaiman himself: The Graveyard Book, Coraline and Stardust. Stories with fantastical and mythical elements that would likely appeal to readers who enjoy The Ocean at the End of the Lane include: The Pull of the Ocean (Jean-Claude Mourlevat); Skellig (David Almond); The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey); Some Kind of Fairy Tale (Graham Joyce); Ragnarok (A.S. Byatt); and I Shall Wear Midnight (Terry Pratchett).

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