the ocean at the end of the lane [book review]

While in Vancouver, waiting for a friend at the Waterfront ferry station, we entered the Simon Fraser University bookshop across the street. This was a most disconcerting experience in that the bookstore contained essentially no book! Just a tiny bookshelf with local authors and another one with a medley of genres. Including Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Which I bought against my better judgement as I had tried to read American Dogs years ago and failed. (But liked very much Neverwhere, again a chance occurrence on a bookstore shelf!) As I started reading the book on the ferry to Vancouver Island, hence on the Pacific Ocean!, I first thought this was about the author’s childhood in rural Sussex, with no other friends than his books, finding some ways to relate to the story of a modest household in the early 60’s, only to be interrupted by three whales swimming along the ferry route. The cheek of them! When I picked up the short novel later in Tofino (with Tonkin Beach above), reality started to unravel (in the book!) and horror to creep in (!). Without getting into spoilers, the  other world or old country starts appearing to the narrator, a seven year old, with about everything taking another and sinister meaning. And no-one else in his household paying any attention to his warnings. What I really enjoy in the book is the sheer ambiguity of the tale, where one cannot be sure this is pure fantasy made up by a lonely seven year old who strongly dislikes a new nanny and is impacted by his parents’ relationship, or an opening into that alternate reality and its dangers that he and only he is able to enter. The book never concludes and this is a strength of the story. Which works for both adult and children readers. It also reminded me of Miyazaki’s Chihiro Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し), in that the supernatural beings here and there are neither evil nor good but simply utterly alien. (This fantastic² movie is considered by my daughter as the most traumatic one she ever saw as a child!) Concluding about the book, this was a very good read, somewhat on the light side although full of forking paths.

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