(Finishing Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean At The End Of The Lane completes book number two in the R.I.P. VIII Challenge.)
As I begin to write this book review for Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, I realize something odd. I don’t know the name of the main character. Do I just not remember it? And now I realize something else: the main character’s parents do not have names (unless you count Mummy and Daddy as names). The sister does not have a name. All the other characters do. I remember those names: Ursula Monkton, the Hempstocks, etc. Almost 200 pages and I do not know the names of the main character and the rest of his family. How ironic.
This story begins with the main character as an adult narrating memories from his childhood, but he can remember them clearly only at a particular place. Otherwise, he goes on with his life and occasionally senses that something isn’t quite right and chalks it up to his imagination. So I finish reading. I go to dinner. I begin writing a draft of this review. And I suddenly realize that I don’t know or remember the main character’s name. Gaiman doesn’t name the main character or his family members, but somehow I thought I did right after finishing reading it. Gaiman used the same sleight of hand memory trick on me, the reader, that he uses on the main character. It’s subtle and slippery, just like memory. There’s a flow, a current that carried me and carries the main character along his adventure. Alterations in the boy’s memory just happen. There’s no potion to drink or magic words. In one sentence the Hempstocks tell the boy about the nature of Ursula Monkton, and in the next sentence they tell him that they’re glad he had a great time at the party. And he doesn’t question it.
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane flows back and forth between what actually happens and what I call “the cover story.” In between these two currents, Gaiman examines memory and its changing nature as children become adults. How do you remember an event, especially from childhood? Do you remember the actual event, a synopsis of the event, or what someone told you about an event? How do you combine what you witnessed as a child (whatever that is) with what someone told you to believe or remember about it? How does one live and enjoy one’s life despite the scary things that enter into it? How does one learn what’s worth remembering and what’s best forgotten and left forgotten?
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane entertained me, frustrated me, scared me, gave me the creeps and left me thinking about many, many things such as the nature of truth, perception, and what does it mean to live a good, fulfilling life? Many of the questions that the main character asks the Hempstocks are topics that in the last couple of weeks I discussed with some of my friends. Which proves to me how universal and fundamental these themes are to finding one’s place in the world.