I mean, was there really any doubt that this book was going to be some high level of epic? I never thought it would be anything other than awesome.
I was right.
This book was way shorter than American Gods but in a lot of ways it's no less epic. The scale is much smaller. It's the story of a boy and his brush with the unusual (one that could have had dire consequences). The threat to the world at large was there but it never really felt like it. Because the scope was so small it was hard to look beyond the lane on which the story takes place. And I think it's better for it.
This isn't the kind of story that needs to be a big global catastrophe. What happens to our narrator is terrible enough and Gaiman reminds you that this is all happening to child. He is very well aware that he's a kid and he has no power where grown-ups are concerned. The threat that he faces would destroy his entire world and that seems more devastating than knowing our world would be wiped out.
Both the character of Ursula and the Hunger Birds were so delightfully sinister. Ursula is just a wonderful villain. Mostly because what she does isn't a grand scheme but it's so underhanded and terrible that it's chilling. The was she turns the narrator's family against him and uses these typical childhood punishments in these twisted ways. It's terrible and terrific. The Hunger Birds are creepy in that way that unfeeling villains are where they have no qualms are destroying things because they are simply doing what they were asked to do. They will kill our narrator to get that last piece of the tunnel. It's what they were told to do, to destroy the tunnel. And that's that. The unfeeling quality to it, especially set beside our narrator who feels everything in that way the children do, is eerie.
The story has everything to do with what makes childhood what it is. The powerlessness of knowing that you're never taken as seriously as you feel like you should be. The conceitedness of thinking you're the most important thing to yourself and everyone in your life. Our narrator goes through all of these but we have the benefit of it being told by him as an older man, with his own children. He sees these traits and so identifies them. In doing so it makes it that much more obvious when his younger self defies these childhood traits. It's those moments where you can see him crash-coursing growing up.
I really adored the Hempstock women. Neil Gaiman did with them, well, with all of the magic in this story, what I always think Maggie Stiefvater does so well. Their power and the just the fact that they are so unimaginably old and know so much just is. Gaiman doesn't go to lengths to explain why they are here and what the old country is and where their power comes from. It all just is the way that it is. And somehow you read and accept it. There are no explanations needed.
Along with childhood, this book explores what memories are and how we see them. The narrator is telling this story as he remembers it and it's only when it's over that, the older Hempstocks tell him that memories are different for everyone and that two people standing next to each other are going to remember the same events in a different way. And Gaiman hits that point home when they talk of Lettie's sacrifice and the narrator is told that Lettie couldn't stand his cries as he died and somehow sacrificed herself for him. We aren't given the details in terms of how she rewound time or anything of that nature or why his memory is different. But that knowledge makes us look at the story differently. How reliable is the narrator?
Further in that vein is the idea that our narrator only remembers when he is at the ocean. He is told he comes from time to time and sits there and it's only when he is there that he remembers what happens. I found this rather sad. It comes up a couple of times in the novel that the narrator would rather remember what happens. When his father tried to drown him, he says his father can forget but he would rather not. To just make him forget like that seems cruel. I wonder how much of what happened to him subconsciously colors the person he turned into.
I love the whole ocean is pond, in bucket, is ocean deal. Plus, it reminds me of the time stream in Doctor Who.
This book is a dark beautiful fairy tale and devoured it. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes folk tales and fairy tales and mythology.
Overall, I give The Ocean at the End of the Lane a rating of Beyond Epic.
Have any of you read it? What did you think?
I'm a little way into Audrey Niffenegger's The Raven Girl. It's a folksy fairy tale thus far and I'm rather enjoying it.