As we age, we become our parents
My first introduction to Neil Gaiman’s work was American Gods, not the book, but the TV series. The first few episodes were engrossing. But then halfway through the season, I lost interest. Maybe it was the mysticism, maybe it was the violence. And since then I had not bothered to read a Neil Gaiman work. Till now.
Lately, while browsing Goodreads and Reddit, I kept coming across recommendations for this book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is a short story, they said. It has elements of magic, fantasy, and symbolism, they said. That drew me to this particular book. The beginning was quite captivating. This is the story of a lonely young boy living in a village in Sussex county in England. He loves books, the second thing that the protagonist has in common with me. A series of events leads him to meet his neighbour, a young girl named Lettie Hempstock. The Hempstocks are a mysterious family, consisting of three generations of women living on a big farm. Strange events start happening in the village after which the narrator heads out with Lettie to defeat the “monster” that is causing these events to happen.
The story is short and does include a lot of magical elements as promised. The symbolism of the duck pond as the ocean is quite fascinating. The book is filled with beautiful comparisons and observations. I especially loved the author’s explanation of the difference between children and adults.
Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.
This struck close to my heart. This was effectively the description of the rat race that people, once they grow old, enter into and never manage to come out.
For me though, once the mysterious events started happening in the book, the story took a deep dive (possibly into the
pond, sorry the ocean) and never came up again. But this is not judging the quality of the book. Fans of Gaiman will probably enjoy it. Readers who are into the magic, fantasy, symbolism genres would also appreciate it. Unfortunately I’m not a fan of this and hence the feeling of being disappointed.
But still I give the book full marks for its poignant observations on certain topics, adulthood – “I do not remember asking adults about anything, except as a last resort,” books – “I went away in my head, into a book. That was where I went whenever real life was too hard or too inflexible,” and life in general – “You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.” Read it for the magical story and such fascinating introspections of the protagonist. I may or may not pick up another Neil Gaiman book but these highlights in my book will stay close to my heart forever.