Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Ocean at The End of the Lane (and The Light of Knowledge)

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.
Also, be on the lookout for very special 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.


  1. As far as I was concerned my children were not my property. God just let me keep them for a little while when they were little. I never tried to mold them. I never tried to do things for their own good like take them to see dead people. I always tried, whenever possible, to let them do as they pleased. That's always what I want to do. The oldest is a lawyer and the youngest an English professor. Maybe I didn't help them growing up but I don't think I hurt them either. When it comes to children I'm a big believer in "do no harm."

  2. I enjoyed your review. Somehow I have got this far in life without having read any of Neil Gaiman's work. This is something I plan to rectify in the near future!

  3. Sounds like the story's secret lies in its simplicity, which is also how a child would remember it.
    How many parts are left in Shadow Spinner?

  4. I really enjoyed reading this review. Until now, I've overlooked Gaiman's work, but that may be about to change.

  5. I have not overly-enjoyed Gaiman's fiction (never finished Neverwhere, and I struggled with the first half of American Gods), though I think he's a really smart and interesting guy. This book looks quite interesting, though. Thanks for the review.

  6. I read Neverwhere and really liked it, but I've not read anything else by him.

    There are things about my childhood that I'd like to forget and things I wish I could remember better. I think that may be the case for many of us.

  7. Sounds interesting. I've only read 3 1/2 of his books (the 1/2 being Good Omens he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett) but the others are on my list to acquire at some point.

  8. Ocean is so short! I'm going to review this tonight but I haven't decided if I'm going to post it on the blog. I was shocked when the dad threw the boy in the tub.

  9. Its great to meet Neil and good luck with his new release! I will check out your freebies. Or if I can buy and download as a whole I will probably do that.

  10. David: Take them to see dead people? Is that a thing? Or do you mean taking them to funerals when relatives died?
    My daughter was there when her grandmother died, but that wasn't really on purpose.

    Cally: >blink blink<
    Just kidding. A lot of people haven't read Neil. As he says (in paraphrase), he's not Dan Brown (and I haven't read any of Brown, not that I intend to).

    Alex: Spinner is 34 chapters and an epilogue, which will be included with the last chapter, I think. I haven't completely decided on that, yet.

    Kathryn: His work shouldn't be overlooked. He has works across the spectrum, so you should be able to find something you like. Although they are all really fantasy of some sort.

    JeffO: I loved Neverwhere (reviewed it recently). American Gods is good, but I liked Anansi Boys more. The Graveyard Book is one of my favorites.

    Anne: I don't know if there's anything I want to forget, not at this point, but there are probably things I wish had never happened.

    PT: I love Good Omens. I've actually read it more than once, which is not something I do a lot of.

    Michael: It is short. I was surprised, actually, when I got my copy in the mail. But I think it would have messed up the story if he'd tried to make it longer.

    Stephen: Wait, how did you know I met Neil? Or are you saying that you met him?
    You can get Shadow Spinner as a whole but not as a whole download. I'm not sure if or when it will be available as a whole download.

  11. I haven't read very much Gaiman, but I'd like to. I really enjoyed American Gods.

    Also, we took a bit of time off from blogging, so I didn't see your last comment until now. Let me know if that book is in the mail, and if you sent another one for me to stock at the Indie Book shop. The owner's cool with it.

  12. ABftS: As I mentioned already, I liked Anansi Boys even better, the not-quite sequel. I'm not in the majority in that, though.

  13. I meant taking them to funerals when relatives, friends or acquaintances die. Lots of people around here think you have to do that so children will adjust or whatever. I don't really think they should be protected from all the unhappy stuff in life but there is plenty enough of that to see - no use adding to it.

  14. David: I went to funerals when I was a kid, but I don't remember them, the funeral themselves, affecting me anymore than, say, having to go to church. It was a long service you had sit still through and be quiet during. The death, which couldn't be avoided, was somehow detached from the funeral in my mind.

  15. Had I read your blog before lunch, I could've read this at lunch and reviewed it already. Instead, I read 1/2 of Chapter 6 of "The Brothers Karamazov" and tried to remember who was Miusov and who was Dmitri.

    But I downloaded the book. I'm feeling bad about getting so many copies free. I will donate any extra free PT books to you, although I haven't heard that I'm getting extra free PT books, so that may not be much of a donation.

    I'll also throw up a post on pop as quickly as I can to hype this.

    I had this book wishlisted and had earmarked my anniversary gift from Sweetie -- $15 on a gift card from Amazon, among other presents -- to buy it, but then I went with the Harkaway book that I'm so in love with right now that Sweetie feels a bit threatened (she needn't; we are years away from legalizing man-book marriages, and I'd never leave her anyway), so this got pushed back.

    BUT, your saying that you liked it almost as much as Neverwhere made me hesitate. I loved his American Gods, was less impressed by Anansi Boys, and thought Neverwhere was pedestrian and could've been better. So how does this stack up to American Gods?

  16. Briane: Hmm... Well, first of all, and I'm in the minority on this, I liked Anansi Boys better than American Gods, and I would say that Ocean is probably closer in style and outlook to Anansi Boys. There is no "concept" at work in Ocean other than the concept of what it's like to be a child and having to deal with very adult things that are happening to you and around you. I would also say it lies in between Neverwhere and Gods in that it has bits that are magical and surreal that are more like Neverwhere but is more grounded in reality like Gods. It's closest to graveyard Book in some aspects but not quite all.
    I'm not sure if any of this is helpful.

  17. I feel remiss in not having read a Gaiman book :(


  18. Donna: You should certainly work on fixing that.

  19. I started it but haven't finished it yet. It's an easy going read. Enjoying it a lot.

  20. Pk: Yeah, it was pretty quick but surprisingly deep.

  21. I have very mixed feelings about Mr. Gaiman. I have a Mr. Punch post just about ready to go in which I explain. Sometimes I love him. Sometimes...meh...

    The importance of things beyond their material worth - anyone who takes parenting seriously can relate to that, I think. A toy breaks. It's just a thing but it was fun and now I can't play with it anymore. It shouldn't matter in the big scheme. Put a child's scheme is pretty small and there's no point fighting that.

  22. TAS: It's not just the smaller world the child has; sometimes, those toys are also "people."

  23. Absolutely true. Learning "those" toys are beyond our control can be a tough lesson, too.

  24. TAS: My perspective as always kind of been that all toys are beyond my control. My mom arbitrarily did things to my stuff when I was a kid often enough that I'm not willing to risk that with my kids. Until my kid comes to a place where s/he is saying, "I don't want this anymore," I leave their stuff to them.

  25. I've liked all the Gaimans I've read, though Good Omens was especially fantastic. I intend to read this one, having heard a compelling interview with Gaiman about its origin. It's certainly true that his own narration is pretty fantastic, isn't it? I could listen to him read a telephone book.

  26. Stephanie: I love Good Omens. It's actually a book I've read more than once, and I'm not a re-reader.

  27. Being a Gaiman fan this is on my to read list. Lovely to read your review of it.

  28. Melissa: It's a pretty quick read, so don't put it off too long.