Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE: It feels more like a long short-story

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a 2013 novel written by Neil Gaiman. It tells the story of an unnamed man who returns to his hometown for a funeral. Before he knows it, he finds himself in the old lane where he has spent most of his childhood. There, he remembers his adventures and misadventures with Lettie Hempstock, a girl who has claimed that the pond beyond the lane is actually an ocean.

What I really like about this book is that it doesn’t feel like a novel to me. It feels more like a long short-story, if that makes sense. Gauging from the number of pages, this book has about 40,000 words, but the plot has no intricate elements that could overcomplicate things. This is a good thing by the way. It’s a breath of fresh air. The story is very simple, and it drives to a specific direction in a specific pace.

However, this simplicity doesn’t mean that the story has no deeper level. There are underlying messages in the book. It tackles familial issues and philosophical insights on nature, time, and other fancy concepts.

Another thing that I like about the story is that it doesn’t spoil everything to the readers. There are some plot elements that have remained to be mysteries, even by the end of the book. There are instances where this could be problematic, because this trait could give room for plot holes. But this is not the case for The Ocean at the End of the Lane. If anything, the unexplained plot elements have only given room for the readers’ imagination to wander about. The best example of this is either the Ocean itself and its peculiar nature or the real identity of the Hempstocks themselves.

Now that I’ve mentioned the Hempstocks. Let’s talk about the characters of the book. I admit that the book has an interesting pool of characters. The unnamed boy and her sister have contrasting personalities, which is interesting to read. The Hempstocks are also very distinct that even the way they talk is different. Their dialogue adds to their overall characterization. What I really like about the Hempstocks is their mysterious origins, and their domestic backgrounds just match the mystery. Ursula Monkton is also a fun character. She reminds me of the main antagonist of Coraline. Having an antagonist that is closer than you think has created suspense.

This book reminds me of Coraline by the way, even though I haven’t read that book and have only seen the movie. The two have very similar themes and approaches. I don’t know if this is also the case for Coraline, but The Ocean at the End of the Lane has a very simplistic writing style, simple enough to consider the writing as appropriate for all ages. Its underlying messages of childhood and adulthood have amplified that impression.

Overall, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a fun read. As I said earlier, it feels more like a long short-story, and that is primarily because of the simplistic plot elements and the way they have been executed. The lessons contained in the fun story also add emotional, even cathartic, value -- and they just make the fun more worth it.

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