There are things when you are a kid that you cannot understand. Things beyond your control. Things you are powerless to prevent or to change. Sometimes these are singular, sudden things, and sometimes they are... life. The ongoing patterns of how things are. The problem is that growing up and coming to understand those things doesn't change the experience of them. It doesn't change what you felt, then, when you were a child and small and powerless.
The Ocean at The End of the Lane is a different kind of book from Neil Gaiman. He has called it his most personal work ever, and I think that shows in that it's written in first person, the first of his novels to be written that way. There are probably some of his short stories written in first person (the one about the cat in Smoke and Mirrors is poking at the back of my mind), but it's been long enough since I've read any of those to actually remember. It gives the story a very personal feel in a way that most first person projects do not. Also, and this could be because I have listened to him reading (I especially like February's) more than a few of his stories, I could just hear it in his actual voice in my head.
There are many things about the way he presents the story that I really like. There are few descriptions. The things that are are just the things that are. The sister is just the sister. We know that she's younger. The mom and dad are the mom and the dad. His father's face gets red when he's angry. It's the kind of thing a child would notice while the other things, the rest of everything, just is. There is no teenage girl staring into a mirror admiring her hair and thinking about her chocolate-brown eyes, and, for that, I was especially thankful. The things that are described are the kinds of things a child would notice, that would stick in his head. The car stuck in the mud. The face of the opal miner. His bent comic book. It really allows the reader to just travel along with the boy, experiencing as he experiences. Feeling the events that happen much more than seeing them.
The novel centers around one of these events. A moment when a child finds out that he is, indeed, a small thing and powerless to withstand the force of an adult. This event is not the inciting incident nor is it the climax; it lies somewhere in-between, but it is the event upon which the story revolves. The thing that changed the life and perspective of the child. A moment where, after it has happened, you just want to go back to before it happened. But you can't go back.
It's also about the negligence of adults. How they can dismiss as unimportant something that is the world for a child. Or how they can think things are replaceable when they're not. A cat is not just a cat, not any cat, and a dog is not just a dog. No more than a child is just a child. Or, even, a toy--or a washbasin, just his size--is just a toy. Things can't always be solved with, "I'll buy you a new one" or "I'll get you something better."
And, then, there's the whole question of memory and what's real. Something we, I suppose, can never be quite sure of.
"Is it true?"
"What you remembered? Probably. More or less."
This is a pretty great book. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I did The Graveyard Book or Neverwhere, but I think this one is going to linger much longer. Ask more questions. Give fewer answers. But that's okay. I like books that hang around in my head and make me think about them.
In other news:
Today is the FREE! release of Part Twenty-five: The Light of Knowledge in the ongoing Shadow Spinner serialization. Remember, if you want the whole story RIGHT NOW!, you can get it at that link I just left.
Shadow Spinner news coming up next week (I think). Here is the list of today's FREE! offerings (and, no, I have not managed to get the first few chapters collected, yet, so, hopefully, that will be next time):
"Part Twenty-five: The Light of Knowledge" (also available for FREE! tomorrow, Tuesday, July 9)
"Part Twenty-four: The Serpent"
"Part Twenty-three: The Harlot"
"Part Twenty-two: The Undying"
"Part Eighteen: The Angel"
"Part Seventeen: The Tree of Light"
"Part Sixteen: The Dark Tree"
"Part Fifteen: Food of the Garden"
"Part Fourteen: Anger and Laughter"
"Part Twelve: The Gash in the Floor"
"Part Eleven: The Kiss"
"Part Ten: The Broken Window"
"Part Nine: The Shadow of the Tree"
"Part Eight: The Cold and The Dark"
"Part Six: The Man with No Eyes"
"Part Five: The Police Car"
"Part Four: The Cop"
"Part Three: The Bedroom"
"Part Two: The Kitchen Table"
So... there you go. 19 of the 25 chapters. I should point out that "Part One: The Tunnel" is not free this week and won't be offered as a free promo ever again. In fact, it won't be available in this current format for much longer.