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A Reader of Fictions: Audiobook Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Audiobook Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman
Narrator: Neil Gaiman
Duration: 5 hrs, 48 mins
Publisher: Harper Audio
Read: June 29-July 1, 2013
Source: Digital copy from publisher for review

Description from Goodreads:
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, 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—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

Oh, Neil Gaiman. I want to love his books in their entirety, but I have yet to do so. Still, they're creepy and beautifully-written, words seemingly selected with precision and artistry. In a lot of ways, The Ocean at the End of the Lane reads like his children's books, rather than an adult novel, but it would probably have scarred my childhood self something fierce.

Why Did I Read This Book?
Neil Gaiman. Hey, I may not have loved all of his books, but I have liked them all thus far, and they're all interesting. Where he tends to fall a bit flat for me is generally characterization, but I've found that his books are all just the slightest bit stronger for me in audio, because it's such a wildly different reading experience, at least for me, allowing me to appreciate the gorgeous flow of his prose and the delightful lilt of his accent.

What's the Story Here?
A middle-aged man returns home for a funeral, and, beset by a sense of something missing, he travels down the lane to the house where, in his seventh year, he befriended the strangest girl. Lettie Hempstock she was called, and she was four years older than him, quite ancient really. When he arrives at the farm, Lettie's not there, but her mother gives him tea and memories arise in him. The older man appears only in the framing chapters, while all the rest consists of the experiences of his seven year old self, as his involvement with the Hempstocks opens him up to a magical and scary world.

How are the Characters?
They seemed fairly well done on the whole, though I still lacked the emotional connection that really makes me care about a fictional character's fate. Gaiman's characters are interesting, but sort of lack that dimension that makes them fully real in my heart. The boy, who I don't think is ever given a name, is a surprisingly weak figure, more a special visitor to the stars, the Hempstocks. He seems a very ordinary boy, not a hero in any way, and I wouldn't say he really becomes one. In all, I'm not really sure what I was to get out of his journey, but it was certainly fascinating.

And the Horror?
The reason this is being marketed to adults rather than teens is perhaps how creepy it is. Books don't scare me, so I won't say I was ever frightened, really, but some of the scenes are haunting. Like Gaiman's Coraline, he delves into the terror of when your family is NOT your family. There's little that would be more completely worldshakingly scary than your dad suddenly not acting like your dad or loving you anymore. There's also an evil nanny and people-eating creatures. It's the macabre sort of story Neil Gaiman is so good at composing.

How was the Narration?
Yet again, I'm glad I went for the audio, since Neil Gaiman's always a delight to listen to, even if that does make me sound like a creep. His voice is soothing and well-suited to the sort of dreamy, dark fairy tales he generally writes. Besides, who knows what emphasis to place on words and sentences better than the author. Also, he sang a couple of times, which was fun.

Sum It Up with a GIF:

Rating: 3.5/5

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Blogger Gina @ My Precious said...

I read a rave review on this same book from another fellow blogger, you don't sound quite as excited about it, mainly though it sounds like you wanted more from the characters. I'm not sure I'm a total character girl, so I still think the twists, turns and perplexingly creepy plotlines may just be enough to satisfy me. Thanks for a great review and better insight into this story. I've not read a book from this author yet.

July 3, 2013 at 12:24 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Coraline is my favorite Neil Gaiman, so I'm excited about this one being similarly creepy! Especially since it's also fairly short! American Gods was way too long for me... I think most of Gaiman's central characters play the "everyman" (or woman) role so you can easily insert yourself into the story, but like you, I don't really love his characters. I did like the leads in Stardust, but I read that when I was a lot younger and more romantic...

I think it's telling that the main character in The Graveyard Book is named "Nobody." And coincidentally, I think that's my least favorite Gaiman book!

I really do like his books, though, even if this sounds like I don't...

July 3, 2013 at 4:25 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'd agree with you about this, though I'm a huge fan of Gaiman's work generally. This one just wasn't quite there for me, it felt like there was something missing but I haven't been able to put my finger on what it was (which is driving me INSANE and is the reason I haven't got around to reviewing it yet).

I read the actual book rather than having the audio book, but I'm shocked it was nearly five hours long. I thought it was a pretty quick read (not as quick as I thought, but still very short).

July 3, 2013 at 5:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't mind fictional characters you can't really feel for, as long as something else in the story makes up for it. And, the horror in this one sounds... pretty well done, I guess. I still have to read a book that truly scares the shit out of me, but I can't say I'm not interested with the horror level in this one. You're lucky you live in the U.S.! I don't receive audiobooks here, and they are PRICEY. I'm just going to have to settle for the book instead, and hope I'm not missing out on anything. Great review!

July 3, 2013 at 5:27 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

So did I, actually, but Neil Gaiman's writing grabs others in a way it doesn't do for me, though I've never regretted reading one of his books or anything like that. I am a total character girl, so odds are high you'll enjoy it more.

July 3, 2013 at 9:54 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Actually, I think my favorite is Stardust, followed by The Graveyard Book and then Coraline. American Gods I DNFed pretty early on, but I plan to try again.

I do think he's doing the self-insertion thing, but I'm just not a fan of that technique. I know that's not me, and it always feels so artificial.

July 3, 2013 at 10:00 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Ah, that's too bad. If you figure it out, I'd be curious to hear your view on it. That's generally how I feel after all of them, but I think that's because I'm such a character reader, and I'd say that's last of what he goes for, and that he generally very intentionally leaves them vague.

Five hours is really short for an audio. Haha. It takes a long time to read a book aloud!

July 3, 2013 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Well, obviously, I can look past that to some degree, since I did still really like this. Characters are necessary for my 4.5 and 5 star ratings, though. Awww, that sucks. Can you not buy from Audible? They have some decent deals I hear.

July 3, 2013 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Serious, I think all Gaiman's books should be listened to as long as he continues to narrate them. I opted to listen to this one since my library didn't purchase the audio but I felt very much the same way. It was a strange yet beautifully written story but by the end I was confused as to what the moral or point of it all was. I was left feeling very confused. Lovely review though. :)

July 3, 2013 at 11:54 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

I almost got this one, but passed since I have a bunch of other audiobooks to get through. I'm glad that you liked it. I have actually never read any of his books. I feel like I suck horribly and need to go out and get some of them now.

July 3, 2013 at 12:50 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

His stuff always freaks me out too...but in a good way. lol Have you read his graphic novels? SANDMAN is my favorite thing he's written, although there's always at least one scene in each edition that scares the pants off me.

July 3, 2013 at 12:58 PM  
Blogger Audra said...

I'm only a limited Gaiman fangirl so I'm not rushing to this one. Your summary has me less concerned about getting there quickly!

July 3, 2013 at 1:57 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

American Gods is really interesting for the plot and mythology--and I'm sure tons of it went over my head--but the characters in that one really aren't likable at all. Probably because they're gods. I haven't read Anansi Boys or Good Omens, but I want to audiobook them eventually.

July 3, 2013 at 2:07 PM  
Blogger Blogger10 said...

I cannot WAIT to read this. Every review I see makes me more excited for it. I love that Gaiman leans more towards the creep-factor vs horror...the fact that an MG novel like Coraline can give you the same type of creeped-out feeling as this novel is so cool. Thanks for reviewing!

July 3, 2013 at 2:51 PM  
Blogger Jenni said...

I think I want this. I love how creepy it sounds but the lack of characterization kind of scares me. Also, very cool that he narrates the audio books by himself, I really wish I could get into audiobooks because I think that is the way I would go with this one. But in the end I will buy it and try it. I held it at the bookstore last week and it's super short too so if I am not a huge fan of it at least I won't be suffering through 300 pages of crap.

July 4, 2013 at 12:08 PM  
Blogger Faye M. said...

I've heard so much about this guy but haven't read ANY of his books. Not yet, anyway. Even though you have it 3.5, it's still very positive, and hopefully I'll get to like it more than you did. And horror! I love horror! Thanks for the review, Christina :)

The Social Potato

July 4, 2013 at 1:32 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

I couldn't read all of your review as my copy of this will be freed from the postman kidnappers tomorrow, but I wish I'd gotten the audio version now. I could listen to that man for days....

July 7, 2013 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I feel similarly about my experience with Gaiman's works, so I'm glad I'm not alone! He has truly fascinating ideas, but I have the hardest time connecting with his characters and truly feeling much in relation to his stories. It sounds like perhaps The Ocean at the End of the Lane would be another one of those stories for me. Le sigh. I really like the idea of his stories and him as a person, but I have yet to find a story of his that actually works for me. Thanks for the helpful review, Christina!

July 8, 2013 at 10:27 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yeah, I definitely do want to try it, but I wasn't a patient reader back then. I did read Good Omens, and didn't love it, but I want to try again. I was expecting more overt humor, like Terry Pratchett does, than was the case.

July 9, 2013 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

For real. I don't plan to read one of his books again, at least any of the ones I don't already own. Haha. Too bad you also felt like something was missing. Ah well. Still glad I listened to it.

July 9, 2013 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Awww, always go for Neil Gaiman on audio. Always. Hahaha.

July 9, 2013 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I've read a lot of Sandman. I think I got through three and a half of Absolute Sandman before I had to leave Pittsburgh and its library with the best graphic novel collection ever. That's definitely my favorite Gaiman as well.

July 9, 2013 at 9:49 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Ha, sorry about that. It was fun in the way Gaiman is generally fun, but I don't feel like it's his best. *shrugs*

July 9, 2013 at 9:54 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Well, most of this really does read like a middle grade. The frame story puts him at middle age, but the rest of it is about a young boy, seven. He does see a couple things that might not be mg appropriate, but I really think younger readers would be fine.

July 9, 2013 at 11:06 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I suspect you might like it. I just really don't know, Jenni. Neil Gaiman's worth reading at some point. I think the eerieness would balance out the characterization for you.

July 9, 2013 at 12:47 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Ha, I was going to say I haven't read many, but I've actually read like 6. Lol. So I'm doing pretty well. I think you might like Gaiman.

July 9, 2013 at 1:19 PM  
Blogger Micheline said...

The only work of Neil Gaiman's that I've experienced personally are the two Doctor Who episodes he's written. He does make quite a few appearances on my reading list though so I was curious to your thoughts on this one BUT I appreciate that you shared your thoughts on his other books that you've read. I'm definitely more curious now but also kind of scared about the lack of characterization - character development is a biggie for me. Anyways, thanks for the insightful review of this one Christina, I'll be keeping it in mind when I finally jump in!

July 16, 2013 at 12:24 PM  

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