Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Friends and family know I adore the writings of C.S. Lewis. Understandably, most people think of his Chronicles of Narnia series and rightly so, but my favorite Lewis book is The Screwtape Letters, a darkly comedic take on temptation. A co-worker, knowing I liked Lewis, had suggested The Ocean at the End of the Lane (William Morrow) as a perfect first-time Neil Gaiman novel.

This is one of those books that does better with as little of a plot synopsis as possible, so readers can visualize the novel's imagery in their own minds. The bare minimum is that a man returns to the street of his childhood home and remembers a series of terribly fantastical events involving a neighbor girl named Lettie who claims the pond behind her house is an ocean.

There are certainly strains of Lewis in the book, especially an antagonist that reminded me more than once of Narnia's White Witch. Between this character and Disney's "The Little Mermaid" villainess, it'll be near-miraculous if future generations of parents name their daughters Ursula. Gaiman's use of imagery echoes Lewis as well.

Like some of the other books I've read this year, "Ocean" unfortunately suffered from a serious case of fandom. Readers left comments everywhere, especially Goodreads and Twitter, that were so effusive in their praise of the book, that it put the novel at a disadvantage. If the axiom is "under promise and over deliver," this was the other side of that, but by no fault of the book or author themselves.

But that doesn't mean the novel itself was bad. Quite the contrary. It is a modern adult fantasy tale and a welcome change of pace from the usual bestsellers. Like Lewis, Gaiman uses fantasy to beautifully convey ideas that transcend age, but without Lewis' overt religious themes. Children can be exposed to the darker aspects of life and none more so than a particular scene the main character goes through involving one of his parents.

Overall grade: 3.5/5 stars. It wasn't the smash that fans made it out to be, but I'm definitely open to reading another Gaiman book in the future.

Two quick notes: I typically don't talk about a book's various editions, but the paperback edition of this book is gorgeous. Beautifully embossed typography on the cover and deckled pages that absolutely match the feel of the story. Also, the film rights to the novel have been purchased by Focus Features, the indie unit of Universal Pictures and Playtone, Tom Hanks' production company. Hanks will produce the film, but no word yet as to whether he'll be playing a role. Joe Wright (Atonement) has signed on to direct. No word yet on a release date, but the talent involved is a good sign for the adaptation.

Do you have a favorite Gaiman book?

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