I finished Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane this morning. It’s funny how much good words can make me cry.
I’ve been dipping my toes into multiple books at once lately which results in me not finishing anything, or taking an inordinately long amount of time to do so, and then getting fed up with myself. But at 40k words, TOATTOTL is more a novella, and while the plot isn’t a page turner (which isn’t necessarily bad), the prose certainly are.
I’d recommend the book to any and everyone, 5/5 easy, especially if you fancy yourself a writer, but not for story-telling purposes. The worldbuilding is unique, but the plot is…well, it was meant to be a short story and probably should have stayed that way, but I’m glad I got to stay in this book for as long as I did.
The world, however, has a dissonant sort of structure to how things work, and I think that’s on purpose: we’re told the story through the eyes of an older man remembering his childhood, so perhaps the narrator is unreliable (or just could not comprehend what they saw), but there’s also the fairytaleness of it, that sense of don’t just suspend your disbelief–abandon it. There might be rules here, but you’ll never understand them, so we won’t bother to explain. And that’s a nice escape when you’re trying to craft all your own rules to magic and stick to them and understand these things that you made up and that definitely aren’t real so you’ll never actually be able to understand them, but you’re desperate to explain them to others anyway.
The real reason I’d recommend TOATTOTL to writers is for the language. The prose are beautiful and they capture feeling, action, and setting honestly. The book speaks to you very gently and shares sentiments without being preachy while leaving enough open for you to take away what you really need from it. These are probably some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read, at times slightly challenging when I looked closer, but worth it to dissect and try and figure out how he evoked a certain emotion or mental image (which, btw, I’ve discovered is the reason I read so damn slowly).
I’m tempted to pick up another of his books immediately, not that my small to-be-read pile isn’t growing ever bigger already, but because I’m sort of on a Gaiman high, and I don’t want to come down. It’s a pretty good way to start 2021.