“I laughed, cried, hated, loved… I felt comforted and nostalgic. Also, I recommend you read it with this: http://amandapalmer.net/blog/20130618/“
This is the review I posted on GoodReads. It’s the first, and so far only, review I’ve published there. Normally I just rate what I’ve read and move on. Most of the time I don’t even like rating the stories. They give you a scale of 1 to 5 stars, and that’s not how I read things. I judge books based on the impact they have on me, which I find difficult to convert to quantitative marks. So I reserve the five-star designation for works I would read again. Three stars receives the mental label, “It was well done in some fashion, but perhaps not my preference.” I have no idea what I consider four stars, and anything below three is just a ranking of how awful I considered something. I gave The Ocean at the End of the Lane five.
Of course, you’re not supposed to just a book by its cover… but I feel they did an excellent job with the construction of this novel. I genuinely appreciate the work that went into it aesthetically. The entire look of the book is centered on water, which is important to the story within; and the images on the front and back even offer a bit of foreshadowing. The texture of the dust cover is my favorite part, I think; followed closely by the tattered look that was given to the pages inside. It’s literally rough around the edges, as the pages are purposefully frayed and uneven. It sounds cliché to say it – I’m going to anyway – but that’s a bit like life, isn’t it? It also gives the feel of pages haphazardly shoved into place by a child; appropriate since it is a book centers on childhood. The only downside I experienced was that the pages were a bit hard to turn, as I have a tendency to turn from the side rather than plying pages from the top.
Story: What I Liked
We never know the protagonist’s name and it’s not missed. It’s written in first person, which I think makes this a little easier to do. However, it wasn’t until I’d finished the book and sat down to mull it over that I realized how little I knew about this boy. You’re right there with him, experiencing this all, sucked into his childhood… and yet, he had somehow become less important than the people around him. You’re not left wanting for a name, either. If his mother had called him Neil or he’d introduced himself as Simon, it would have immediately distinguished character from reader. I think the magic of the book comes from being able to place yourself in his shoes.
The Hempstocks. They provided the ‘comfort’ I mentioned in the review, and I think that the image I’ve formed of their kitchen is now inextricably linked with that word in my mind.
Honestly I could go on, but I’d just end up itemizing the entire book for you. Let’s suffice to say I thoroughly enjoyed the entire thing.
What I Didn’t Like
Not knowing. The ending is not a neatly tied bow, which I both like and dislike. (I have a hard time finding anything negative to say about this novel.) It’s meant to be this way, as the book wasn’t written just to tell a story… it was written to explain something. When viewed as that, it’s easy to accept. My imagination goes wild, however, wanting to know more… This is good. I think it’s the sign of a good book – I didn’t want it to end! But all stories must come to a close, especially those still being written.
What’s it about?
Being human. Struggles that come from glimpsing the darkness in the world. Childhood. Magic. Reassurance. Feeling as though we must do something worthwhile in our lives to make it “worth” all the sacrifices of the past. Nostalgia.
Could be a blend of any of those or none at all. On the surface, it’s about a man who returns home for a reason and stops to visit a place from his childhood. While there, he remembers something long forgotten. We get to share in that memory, which is both comforting and terrible. The tale is described as ‘elegiac’ on the inside cover, which I think is apt.
The book is not long, only 180 pages. I suggest you read it.