I’m back with a new book.
Where did I go, you ask?
Into the Ocean at the End of the Lane. And I Fear(ed) Nothing. I did come across The Chalk Man, though, and he was an interesting fellow. He asked me a lot of questions, including the ever daunting What Is Life.
If you haven’t guessed already, those are all books I’ve been reading and finishing while I took a little break from writing. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman has been by far the easiest and quickest to finish, so today we’ll be reviewing (with spoilers) that book in its entirety. Next time we’ll be talking a little bit about the crime novel Fear Nothing that I picked up from Thriftbooks.com.
If you still buy your books at full price, I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but cheap books ain’t one.
Okay, enough jokes. Let’s get into it.
The Ocean at The End of the Lane.
Firstly, Neil Gaiman is not an indie author. He is a seasoned, accomplished one, with quite the knack for what we call Magical Realism over here in America. His imagination is impeccable. That’s not to say there aren’t a few things I wish were different in his book.
We start off meeting a man attending a funeral. He decides to re-visit the farm at the end of the lane of his childhood house where he met a girl aptly named Lettie Hempstock, an eleven-year-old mystery. We flash back to his childhood when he first met Lettie, after a man had stolen his father’s Mini Cooper and ended his life in it. The scene too gruesome for a seven year old, our protagonist is granted the opportunity to spend some time with Lettie, Lettie’s mother (Mrs. Hempstock) and Lettie’s grandmother (Old Mrs. Hempstock).
To right a wrong, Lettie takes our protagonist to this Forever land where the sky is orange. She tells him “do not let go of my hand” no matter what happens, or what he sees. They come across this thing made of canvas with “deep holes in the fabric” and Lettie demanded she name herself. Of course this doesn’t happen and through the course of the terrifying conversation, our protagonist lets go of Lettie’s hand.
Oh how the young doom themselves.
When he returns home, there is something burrowed in his foot. With tweezers and warm water, he pulls half of the worm out (only half because it broke off inside of him) and the next thing we know, a new babysitter arrives named Ursula Monkton.
Ursula, as you may have guessed, is not an Ursula at all, in fact, she’s not even human. She’s the worm.
Before I lose you, I promise this book flows way better than I’m making it sound.
Our protagonist knows this is no ordinary babysitter, but she seems to have everyone wrapped around in little finger. His sister loves Ursula, their mother, who took a new job (hence the need for the babysitter) loves Ursula, and their father really, really loves Ursula, and gets caught having some passionate relations with her in his study. Don’t ask me how that works if she’s a worm.
This forces our protagonist to tell Lettie he let go of her hand in the forest. This creates some problems, but nothing the three Hempstocks can’t fix. They have spells and magic and creative thought to get rid of Ursula Monkton.
But Ursula has some magic of her own. She knows how to manipulate, and gets the father to choke and nearly drown his son in the bathtub. Our protagonist runs to Lettie Hempstock’s farm where magic is used to erase that event from reality; when his parents come looking for him, they believe he is just staying the night and brought his toothbrush for him–since he forgot it and all.
The next day, Lettie and our protagonist set off with “dolls’ eyes and heads and hands, [toy] cars with no wheels, and chipped cat’s eye glass marbles” to get rid of Ursula Monkton. We don’t necessarily learn what these toys are for, but it’s implied they are needed for the magic to work. They confront Monkton, who is now unashamed of her form, and highly overconfident; she’s managed to take over our protagonists’ house and turn everyone against him. Monkton levitates throughout their conversation, and she is the canvas monster for sure, but Lettie threatens her with “the varmints.”
They’re “mean, and they’re hard to get rid of. And they’re always hungry.”
We learn that Monkton has buried herself within our protagonists’ heart, and his life keeps her alive. She’s using him for energy, I assume, and we get this kind of awkward explanation of: “It is inside him. it is not a tunnel. Not any longer. It does not end. I fastened the path inside him too well when I made it and the last of it is still inside him. No matter. All I need to do to get away from here is to reach into his chest and pul out his beating heart and finish the path and open the door.”
I say awkward because when I read it, I don’t really feel threatened like it’s intended to be. It feels like a little kid explaining what Ursula Monkton wants, instead of Ursula explaining herself. In the midst of all that, there is a flapping, and then a whooshing, and then came The Hunger Birds, quite honestly my favorite characters in this whole book. They are the varmints, The Ones Who Eat (throwback to Hollow Kingdom). They devour the creature that is Ursula Monkton. But then they turn to our protagonist who still carries part of her inside of him.
Lettie creates a boundary, a fairy ring, and makes our protagonist sit in it. Nothing can come in the circle, and he should not leave the circle. She leaves.
The Hunger Birds play all sorts of games with our protagonist, impersonating his sister, his parents, anyone to try and get him out of the circle, but he does not budge because of his loyalty to Lettie and his understanding that he will be ripped apart if he does. In the end, Lettie sacrifices her life to save our protagonist.
There are a lot of good things about this book. The dialogue flows, we get a character we can feel scared for and two characters we get to root for. I only wish it was a little longer. I appreciate the mystery that the Hempstock’s unknown background provides, but the story itself almost feels rushed. I really wanted description and explanation of the world with the orange sky that lived in the back of the Hempstock’s farm, and the little pond that was really an ocean. I wanted to get a sense of these magical people, and that depth just isn’t there.
The book is enjoyable though, and a quick read. It’s something that kept my turning pages fiercely.
Next post we’ll talk about Fear Nothing, a crime novel with a very cliche Antisocial Personality.