“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

I have a complicated reader “relationship” with Neil Gaiman. Gaiman authored Sandman, my gateway title into comic books, where I’ve been romping happily for the last 24 years. Over the last 24 years, his status has a geek icon has grown. While I appreciate some of his later works, I think the comics writing was better, and the praise far outstrips the work its heaped on. I’m not anti-Gaiman, just anti-pedestal-i-zation of Gaiman.

The first time I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, was soon after I’d read Julian Barnes’ Man Booker prize winnerThe Sense of an Ending. The books share a common theme of a middle-aged man with a bad memory looking back on an encounter with a vibrant female in his youth whom he grievously harmed. Gaiman’s book is full of magic and myth but only serviceable prose. But for two scenes, it could fit with his works for children. Barnes’ is meticulously crafted, with stop-in-your-tracks prose; it is decidedly adult both in theme and craft. Reading the two together made me like Ocean less.

On a second read for one of my book groups, I found The Ocean at the End of the Lane compulsively readable, even though I knew the end. It has a terrific need-to-know-what-happens-next factor. I think people misidentify it a fantasy. I find it contains more elements of horror. In the end, though, it felt like empty calories, spent with one of my least favorite character types, the regretful middle-aged white man. I was glad to leave behind the book and its narrator, though I’d happily spend time with the Hempstock women again, which I tried to do by re-reading Gaiman and Charles Vess’ Stardust graphic novel. It does contain Hempstocks, but not the interesting ones.

I end this entry no less conflicted than when I began.

Draw your own conclusions. And please comment if you’ve read it.

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