The Ocean at the End of the Lane is cute and quirky, like most recent Gaiman stories. At first, I thought it was going to be similar to John Crowley’s Little, Big because it has that “eccentric people who are probably fairies” vibe, but it has its own personality and introduced me to a new Gaiman mythology that includes rotted fabric monsters and magical water. It is a good, enjoyable story, although I would hardly call it a novel. It’s quite short.
Written from first-person perspective, the narrator visits his childhood home and shares a suddenly lucid memory of a neighborhood girl, Lettie, her eccentric family, and an adventure in her backyard that results in his parents hiring an evil nanny who threatens to ruin the narrator’s life. Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother teach the narrator how to overcome the evil nanny and correct the problems she has caused.
Like most of Gaiman’s recent work, The Ocean at the End of the Lane has a very childlike feel. With the exception of a slightly racy scene and adult point-of-view, it might have been a children’s novel. I was disappointed that it was another departure from his earlier, darker works like The Sandman series and American Gods. In fact, cute and childlike are becoming the norm for him. I would certainly like another gritty, peculiar novel like Anansi Boys or Neverwhere to sink my teeth into. He blends dark and innocent so well, it’s no wonder his children’s books are successful– but I don’t want to read kids books.
But the beauty of this story is the way Gaiman explores a childhood memory through the mind of an adult, who has long since grown up and forgotten most of his childhood. Only a familiar place (the ocean at the end of the lane) has the magic to restore his memory of a particularly fantastic and frightening event. It’s lovely the way Gaiman can tap into the worldview of a little boy. It feels like it’s a story about him; as if we are reminiscing with Gaiman about something that actually happened to him. (And if it did actually happen, I want to see this ocean-pond.) It’s a worthwhile read, but it did not satisfy my craving for a real, meaty Gaiman novel. The realist in me suspects that we will not see another American Gods-type novel from him as long as he is happy and in love. Ain’t that the way it goes?
Anyway, because I spent all summer reading contemporary sci-fi, I’m going vintage for my next read. The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov, the first in his Robot series. I’m in the mood for galactic colonization and robots with positronic brains.