I already blogged about Neil’s event for the launch of ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ but I’ve now had the opportunity of actually reading the book.
It’s a very good book. In fact, I think it is a great book.
It captures and recalls the feeling of childhood extraordinarily vividly – the impotence in the face of adult power, the fears and joys. And the fact that one can be content without being happy.
“I was not happy as a child, although from time to time I was content. I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else”
The narrator is touchingly vulnerable. At seven, he recalls, he learned to climb down drainpipes because that’s what children in books did, and took courage from the example of the plucky school girls he read about in school stories. But he was afraid, doing it.
And later, he learns that the adults are not as confident and powerful as they appear to us, when we are children;
“Grown-ups don’t look like Grown-ups on the inside, either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have”
This is a Gaiman book, so it’s no surprise that there is magic and myth; Names, (true names) are important, and the triumvirate of the Hempstock women are undoubtedly related to the triple goddess of maiden, mother and crone.
There are no safe, happy endings here, but there is hope. (And grief, and memories, and sacrifice, and fear, and love) And there is comfort, too.
“ ‘And did I pass?’
The face of the old women on my right was unreadable in the gathering dusk. On my left, the younger woman said
‘You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear’.”
This is not a book to read once. It’s a book to read again, and again. I read it on Sunday morning, and my immediate reaction then (compressed into a single tweet) was “
I have just finished reading 'Ocean'. It is beautiful and wise and made me cry and thank you. And now I shall read it again.” And I think that still summarises who I feel about it.
Anyone who has any memory of what it is like to be a child will, I think, find that it resonates with those memories. And perhaps it will remind those who don’t remember, what it is like.
Thank you, Neil.
(The book can be bought here, or from your local book shop)