Audiobook Review: Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, who also read the audiobook.  The book begins in Sussex England as a middle age man attends a funeral in his childhood hometown. He is drawn to the farm at the end of the lane where he remembers some extraordinary events, and the extraordinary girl Lettie Hempstock, when he was seven years old.  Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. His death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie; a girl that is magical, comforting, and wise beyond her years, promised to protect him, no matter what.

I do not want to talk to much about the contents of the book, because I listened to the audiobook based solely on the author and had not read a single review or even the summary beforehand. At first I thought I was going to be disappointed, as the story began with a forty something man driving down the road and pondering a funeral. However, the journey down memory lane and return back are unique and completely enthralling. The narrator sees the world through the selfish and innocent eyes of a seven year old. The fact that the landscape and some of the events from the book were actually part of Gaiman's childhood added to the feel that the layer of fable woven into the world here is really there, and we might stumble into similar troubles if we are not careful.  I absolutely loved the Hemstock family, and felt a bit of resemblance to the mother, maiden, and crone from Earth based religions.

Ocean at the End of the Lane is just what I expect from Gaiman. He takes normal events and memories, both the banal and the painful, and turns them into something even more important. There is a larger mythology and world in Ocean than some of its characters and readers can fully grasp, a blending of fantasy and realism that leaves me looking at the world a little differently when the book is over.  The heart of the story is the sheer frailty and fleeting nature of the human existence, the idea that the terrible and the wonderful can stand hand in hand. There is feeling of unity and understanding that the book leaves me with, like knowing I am not the only one who looks in the mirror and am sometimes surprised that the face the world sees is not the same as the real me or the face I think I wear.

With any audiobook the reader is extremely important. A great reader can bring life to the book, even a less than stellar book- however a less talented read can render even the best book impossible to enjoy. If you can get a great writer, with a great voice, to read their own work then you have the best of all worlds. Gaiman has a wonderful speaking voice (I could listen to him read the dictionary, and knowing him he'd sneak in something fun to make sure you are listening), and the inflections and tones he uses for each character and event was wonderful.

I would highly recommend Ocean at the End of the Lane to all readers that enjoy Gaiman's work, and those that like books that blend the 'real' world with mythology and fables in new ways. Fans of American Gods will be particularly pleased with Ocean, since it has a similar blending of worlds. This book has made me an even bigger fan of Gaiman, if that was at all possible.

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