I think we all know how I feel about Neil Gaiman here. I’ve made my feelings quite clear. He writes his books longhand, responds to his Twitter and Tumblr fans (and in a real way, not some half-assed ‘my PR person made me write this’ way), has wildly curly hair and loves his dog (and wife). I mean, seriously?
So believe me when I say that it was not a reflection of my true feelings for Gaiman that The Ocean at the End of the Lane left me feeling … lukewarm.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did. Immensely. I read it slowly (have you seen how slim it is? one must ration out one’s Gaiman). But then I proceeded to do something that I have never done with a Gaiman book before — I forgot about it. That is to say, it didn’t linger in my mind. I didn’t ponder it in the shower, didn’t mull over it in the kitchen, didn’t hug it sadly to my chest while watching the rain splatter across my windows. It’s almost as if the enjoyment was over before I could quite get down to feeling it.
Don’t get me wrong. Gaiman was as brilliant as ever and I have a definite weakness for books that take place in a short span of time — a day, an hour. If Ethan Hawke’s character in Before Sunset actually wrote that book that takes place in the space of a pop song, I’d be the first to buy it. And now I have compounded my geekiness by talking about buying a book that does not even exist, not even in the film it appears in wtf.
I also know that The Ocean at the End of the Lane began as a short story (‘cos Gaiman says so at the end) but (and ohmygod I don’t believe I’m going to say this) the book felt unfinished.
To be sure, the end of any Neil Gaiman book is bound to leave me begging for more like some nerdy Oliver Twist, but this was the only one that felt that there should be more. Unlike Door and Richard Mayhew and Bod, the Hempstocks don’t come across as one-time stars — they feel more like recurring cast members. Quite apart from being absolutely fascinating (who are these women, really, who can boss bacteria around?) it felt like Gaiman did not do justice to his own characters. For one, we never really get a real sense of what the ocean is or how it does what it does or who brought it from where and how it relates to Lettie Hempstock. You can’t just create characters like the Hempstocks and then not tell us more about them, other than tantalizing allusions to immortality (“I remember when the moon was made”). Especially after tantalizing allusions to immortality.
Although I’m sure many will say that too much exposition would result in some of the subtlety or magic being lost, I’m the sort of person who, when faced with anything fascinating, likes to have things laid out for her. That’s why I love Lord of the Rings and Dune. All those details. Maps! Charts! A freaking language!
Btw, if any of you have not read Dune by Frank Herbert, please do. Why don’t more people talk about this book?
At the end of the day The Ocean at the End of the Lane is everything you’d imagine a Neil Gaiman book to be. Magical, subtle, fascinating, scary. It just left me feeling that there should have been more of it, that’s all.
My bed was pushed up hard against the wall just below the window. I loved to sleep with the windows open. Rainy nights were the best of all: I would open my windows and put my head on my pillow and close my eyes and feel the wind on my face and listen to the trees sway and creak. There would be raindrops blown onto my face, too, if I was lucky, and I would imagine that I was in my boat on the ocean and that it was swaying with the swell of the sea. I did not imagine that I was a pirate, or that I was going anywhere. I was just on my boat.
Don’t the Hempstocks appear in Stardust? I thought they were BRIEF in there because I read it directly after Ocean at the End of the Lane, but I definitely could have dreamed that one.
I’m so glad I read your blog though because while I liked Stardust, I wasn’t really THAT into Ocean at the End of the Lane. Should I read American Gods next? That’s the one I hear the most about and I haven’t read it yet.
PS. So didn’t know he wrote his books longhand. YES YES YES.
Wait, the Hempstocks were in Stardust? Oh my, all the more reason to re-read it next. I liked American Gods a LOT, but if you haven’t read Neverwhere yet, I’d recommend that. Hands down my favorite Neil Gaiman book. And yes, longhand. There’s even a picture floating around online of the notebook he wrote Coraline in, I think.
Oh my goodness, I’ll have to search out that picture. I’ll read Neverwhere next then. : )