Friday, 7 February 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman

What do you say when you read a book that so vividly reflects so many of your own life experiences, and yet which takes you beyond them into new and inspiring ways to view those experiences? It's difficult - so very difficult - to rationalize a work that instils so many emotions. Emotions like admiration for the work, enjoyment for the tale, remembered fears from those childhood events that correlate to events depicted in the tale, and, yes, jealousy for the success of a work you feel that you could have written yourself. Such a book comes along only once in a while, and leaves us profoundly changed in ways we hadn't expected, and maybe didn't want to.
Such a book is The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman.

I've read that many people read through this seemingly short book in one go, and very quickly. If they thought they were doing it justice by doing that, all well and good to them. Myself, I took quite a long time to read this book, and even took a break about halfway through. This wasn't because I found the book difficult to read, but mainly because I wanted to digest and assimilate the experience and its correlations to my own reality, evaluate the metaphors and emotions they brought.

And there were a lot of those.

The beauty of The Ocean at the End of the Lane lies in the craftsmanship with which Gaiman cloaks a truly deep study of conflict and fear within what is, apparently, a child's eye view of their world. Hidden within the story simply told are nightmares and dreams, both real and imaginary, that entrap the lonely seven year old hero, and yet which provide him with unfathomable opportunities to escape his all-too-grey-and-grim reality. His adventures with Lettie Hempstock and her family provide him with the perfect anodyne to the apparent coldness and loneliness of his parents home as seen through the youngster's eyes, filling those voids with wonderous characters and creatures, and perilous but protected pastimes. Any child that ever read J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis will be familiar with these sojourns into The Perilous Realm. But what makes Gaiman's achievement truly unique is the perspective he brings of the adult remembrance of these adventures, and the inability to truly validate the difference between the reality and the fantasy.

As I mentioned earlier, I found numerous correlations between events and experiences in my own childhood, and those encountered by the hero of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This, in and of itself, is both alarming and, at the same time, cathartic. Alarming, because it brings back all of those memories - whether good or bad - and lays them at your feet, along with the fears they engendered at that time. Cathartic, because it then allows you to resolve those events in a different light - that of maturity, maybe - that makes them, perhaps, less fearsome than they seemed at the time. Gaiman's story opens windows onto our own childhood demons, and gives us an opportunity to resolve them, or not, as we see fit.

I thoroughly recommend this book - not that Neil Gaiman needs my recommendation to drum up sales or followers. But don't rush through it. Take the time to learn from the experience, and grow with the story. As far as I am concerned, I will attempt to get over my jealousy at Gaiman's success, and endeavour to write my own stories, and, hopefully, achieve similar success.  

Finally, my love and thanks to my wife for buying me this wonderful book. xxx 

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