Monday, February 01, 2016

Book Review - The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Over the years I've decided that I enjoy scary or creepy stories but I'm not a huge fan of the "horror" genre for books or movies because they often end up having too much gore, violence, sex, profanity or other "R rated" content that I'm not just a fan of. As such, I've stopped reading a handful of books that otherwise seemed to have a very cool premise. Sadly, one author who's been set down frequently has been Neil Gaiman...and yet, some of his books have been absolute favorites. I've come to the conclusion that I'm a fan of Gaiman's children or YA books or else his shorter stories (which seem to be less graphic). Anyway, I read a lot of great reviews about The Ocean at the End of the Lane and so I gave it a try...and I've very glad I did.

As I read the book, I tried to categorize the book in terms of audience or style and found that it teetered on the edge between categorizations. The book focuses on an adult male protagonist returning to his old hometown for a funeral and coming to terms with some strange occurrences of his youth. With the main story arc taking place in his youth, it seemed a good candidate for that "YA" categorization. But in terms of what's become the stereotypical themes and tone of contemporary YA, this book leaned more towards an adult novel. It had some darker, heavier themes beyond the simple "coming of age" teenage story or the standard teenage adventure novel. At the same time it did have some youthful elements that could almost appeal to older children. While a bit heavy for young children, the story does explore themes of children having to deal with the "bad" elements in the world such as death or unkind/hateful people in ways similar to Gaiman's popular children's novel Coraline. I felt like some of the scenes in Ocean are a bit scarier than those in Coraline so I'd bump it up to a Middle Grader or higher age rating but otherwise I feel like the book is good for all ages.

As with Gaiman's other works, the concepts are fun and intriguing while still feeling familiar. He pulls on threads of tried-and-true themes and concepts to expose them in unique ways that feel fresh and interesting. I love the development of our unnamed protagonist as he works through the strange events in his life, especially after meeting young Lettie Hempstock. The characters and the environment felt very real and vibrant and I would love to learn more about them all. I really loved the unique fantastic elements that come about through the events of the story. They felt very based in old folklore and campfire stories...creepy and off kilter enough to know they're fantasy, yet vivid enough to allow for that spark of belief that they might just be real.

There are a lot of great ideas and wonderful imagery that I'd love to share but I don't want to spoil the surprises and the enjoyment of encountering them on your own so I will just suggest that you take the time to pick this book up and give it a read. It's fairly short so you can read it quickly. If you're easily unsettled, read it during daylight and be sure to keep the lights on. It's not so scary that you'll be haunted (at least I don't think so), but the themes and tones will stick in your mind and leave you thinking about the light and dark things in the world all around us.

4.5 out of 5 stars4.5 out of 5 stars

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