On June 18th Neil Gaiman published his best novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. My wife had pre-ordered a signed copy for my birthday back in March. In May we moved unexpectedly, and we forgot to give the bookseller our new address. On June 18th I came home, very excited to get my book, only to remember our mistake. We checked the tracking number online and found, to our relief, the book had been delivered to our old apartment safe and sound. We hopped in the car and drove there only to find nobody home. We left a note with our phone number, and a plea to call us back. We got a phone call later, which went to voicemail, but the caller was kind enough to leave us the message, “We have your package.” Unfortunately, they did not leave us any information as to when they would be home, or a callback number, or anything and their number was blocked on the phone as well. Needless to say, I was beyond frustrated, especially as we continued to drop by and leave notes and receive no answer whatsoever. I could even see the package sitting there through the open blinds. I almost tried to climb through the window. Luckily, I suppose, my wife was there to stop me. Finally, I got a phone call a few days later, and I finally got my book!
Earlier this year Amanda Palmer, Mr. Gaiman’s supremely talented wife, gave a TED Talk entitled “The Art of Asking.”
In this talk she described her time spent as a living statue in New Orleans. She was called the Seven-Foot Bride, and when someone gave her money, she looked at them with her expressionless face and offered them a flower. Sometimes they took the flower, and sometimes they didn’t, but the point she made is that a flower was not what she was really offering.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane(which henceforth will be abbreviated to its twitter tag #OceanLane, except when it’s not) is Gaiman’s flower. Neil Gaiman has written many wonderful novels, stories, comics, children’s books, and just about anything else you can think of, but he’s never written anything like #OceanLane. It’s raw and powerful and entirely unabashed in its delivery. It’s not just a novel. It is the titular ocean, big enough to fill the whole universe and small enough to fit in a bucket, “if you ask it nicely.”
What makes #OceanLane so different from Gaiman’s other works is not is imagination (all of them have that). Nor is it the childlike perspective, or the magic, or the wonder, or the specific words (they all have that too). #OceanLane is so much better because it is a connection. It’s the flower. In a somewhat ironic twisting of the narrative roles, Gaiman becomes Lettie Hempstock and the reader becomes the frightened, nameless narrator. He gives us his hand and tells us we’ll be safe as long we stay with him. Only, that’s not true. But it also is. The Ocean at the End of the Lane takes you on a journey through the frightening world of the imagination, and unlike most books, it doesn’t save you at the end. At the end, everything is still big and scary, and even grown-ups can’t understand it.
You might get the idea, reading that last paragraph, that #OceanLane isn’t worth your while, or that it doesn’t deliver. Nothing could be further from the truth. It doesn’t have a happy ending, or even a pleasantly satisfying ending. In fact, the ending will leave you downright distraught. But it is a good ending. It is worthwhile. It will change you, probably for the better. And even though you might forget, or not understand why, the Ocean is still there and it will put things right.
I will not tell you the story. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is not about the story. It’s about the journey, and I will not deprive you of that. I know there will be people out there who don’t enjoy this book as much as I, or who don’t even enjoy it at all, but I might hazard to say, a bit impertinently even, “They are wrong.” #OceanLane is a gift, and like all good gifts there is some assembly required, but it will be worth any amount of toil and hassle and frustration and rage and sadness to taste the simple joy of being human in a big, scary world and knowing you are not alone. Thank you, Mr. Gaiman.
Other (better) book reviews:
You can search it on the internet, and I’ll leave that up to you. But what you should really do is find a local bookstore and buy it there because those are great places and they should be supported.
Also check out your local library.
I’ll give you this one though…
Audible.com (narrated by Neil Gaiman)