I’m sitting at my computer thinking about the last trip I took to the library. I came home with a giant bag full of books, including a huge 1000 page tome. I checked out nine, which is a little more than half of my allotment, but still it was enough to keep me occupied for the five days my husband would be gone. I have begun seven of those books. I didn’t finish one because it was disturbing. I haven’t finished the one I just started. I have read the 1000 page tome. But as I look at the stack to review I am finding myself thinking, that one was horrible, that one was like an oil slick on my brain, that one was okay, that one had too much language, and so on. I’ve only actually enjoyed two of the six I’m done reading. That’s sad.
So where in my description does The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, fall? It’s the oil slick on my brain. From a distance it looks pretty. Parts of it are rather brilliant, but it still leaves a mark of oiliness, a feel of being uncomfortable, and a taste of disgust in my soul. Why?
The story itself is rather fascinating with fantastical creatures and magical powers. I loved the three Hempstock women. They were a refreshing touch in a rather chilling expose of human character. The thing which becomes Ursula Monkton is undeniably terrifying in her effect on the family relationships.
The main character is a little boy who loves to read, has no friends, and is misunderstood by his father. He accidentally lets Ursula Monkton into the life of his family. She is a tyrant toward him, and alienates him from his family in one day. I find the fact that she easily breaks those bonds disquieting. Through her influence the boy’s father almost kills him, and is so cavalier towards his family that the boy discovers that his dad is carrying on with Ursula, even if he is young enough to not quite understand what he sees. His sister begins to hate him, and his mother can’t be bothered to take care of her family. She’s so wrapped up in her outside work and activities that she doesn’t know what is going on.
I think what bothers me the most is that Ursula is so easily able to snap those bonds. It’s like no one in the family cares about the boy. It’s no wonder the boy grows into a man who can’t make relationships work. I’d like to think that it would take more than the influence of one person and a lot more time to alienate my family from me.
The warm and loving Hempstock women are a direct contrast to the evil that is Ursula. They are the hope in the novel. They become the boy’s source of love and strength that he relies on more and more. Lettie’s ocean could take on so many meaning, depending on the reader. I look at it a place of possibility, a place of reflection, a place of growth and remembrance. Like Lettie says, “It’s a big as it needs to be.”
The ending is the most brilliant that I have read in quite a while. The book is worth reading just for the conclusion. Neil Gaiman uses his character to take us through the steps of growing up in just a few pages, demonstrating that sometimes not remembering everything from our childhoods is a blessing.
I don’t remember there being a bunch of bad words in this book, but it was the first of one the batch. The scene the boy sees really isn’t really that explicit either. All in all, it is rather an odd read, and not necessarily comfortable.