Thursday, February 6, 2014

Reading While Knitting: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Reading: The Ocean at the end of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
Knitting: Rikke 2.0

The thing about Neil Gaiman is that he understands what it is to be a child.  This may be a novel for adults, but it's about childhood, and about the ways in which our interpretations of things change as we get older, and perhaps become less real, not more so.  Or at the very least less true.

A man in late middle age returns to the home of a friend from childhood, and as he looks at her "ocean"--which is really nothing more than a muddy pond--he remembers his childhood entirely differently.  Various familiar fairy tale tropes converge--the crone, the mother, and the child as different faces of the same being, a threatening female figure come to destroy the stable family--but they are applied with not only a nod toward understanding their place as a way of interpreting our real lives, but also our "real" lives; there is nothing saying that a pond can't also be an ocean. 

I remember when I was about ten or eleven, and my friend and I used to go exploring the new pasture that had been cleared behind her house.  We found a crater (not all that unusual) and it had been filled with various branches and things that had recently grown in the new pasture.  We prepared for the climb down into the crater as if we were going to another, very dangerous land.  We packed food, water, ropes, and costumes.  We climbed down the branches and broken trees, feeling that any loose branch our misstep could send us tumbling to our deaths...and even if we should make it to the bottom, who knew what would be down there?  Something, I can tell you that.

The thing of it is, I know now, obviously, that that crater was probably only about ten feet deep, and of course wasn't home to any kind of underground civilization, and that there was no way our lives or even probably our limbs were ever in any danger.  But I don't remember it that way.  When I think about that crater, it is still as exciting and filled, not with the possibility, but with the certainty that something otherworldly was going to happen.

That feeling, that double-vision, is what this book was about for me.

Also, there's this creature, who seems (to me, though obviously this is the wrong country, since the book is set in Sussex) to be made of an abandoned revival tent.  If you find that hard to imagine, that's because most of us would.  Except Neil Gaiman.

1 comment:

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This is a pretty great book. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I did The Graveyard Book or Neverwhere, but I think this one is going to linger much longer. Ask more questions. Give fewer answers. But that's okay. I like books that hang around in my head and make me think about them.