I’m surprised it took me as long as I did to get to reading this book. In a moment of weakness that I experience whenever I am in a bookstore, I decided to add yet another Neil Gaiman book to my growing collections. What can I say? I’m guilty of being a Neil Gaiman fan. I will now tell you about The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
When a middle aged man returns to his childhood home for a funeral, he finds himself drawn back to an old farm where his friend, Lettie Hempstock, lived. As he stands by Lettie’s “ocean” (that was really a pond) behind her farmhouse, he remembers a frightening, magical, and fantastical time in his life that no small boy could have even imagined. The Ocean at the End of Lane follows the journey of children trying to make sense of a strange world where adults aren’t always right and magic inhabits the forest.
You are all aware of my bias as I am a Neil Gaiman fan but, regardless, this novel is a delicate and dark look at childhood and the struggles that come with it. Gaiman takes his signature dark storytelling and turns it into a fairy tale that is surprisingly relatable. It’s a quick read too, at only 273 pages but Gaiman makes every last page count. This coming-of-age story presents the reader with a new outlook on adulthood, humanity, bravery, and kindness. The Ocean at the End of the Lane takes you a whirlwind journey through the magic world that we grow out of.
As I have mentioned in a previous review, I have been interested in mythology for a long time. American Gods seemed like an obvious choice for me to read. Since Starz has released the television adaptation of this book, I figured that I would give a review of it for anyone who is either not familiar with it or anyone watching the series. (Note: The Starz adaptation is excellent but it does take have differences, like any book-to-screen adaptation).
American Gods centers around Shadow Moon who is released from prison after finding out about the death of his wife, Laura. While traveling back home as a free man, he meets the enigmatic and quick-witted Mr. Wednesday who offers him a job as his assistant. Since Shadow realizes he has nowhere to go, he accepts the offer. Soon Shadow is thrown into a battle between the forgotten gods of the past and the new gods of the future. As the lines between reality and mythology blur, Shadow must decide where he stands and what he truly believes in.
First and foremost, what I love about this book are the interweaving narratives. Not only do you get to follow Shadow as he travels across America to meet with lost gods, but there are other narratives from across time that illustrate how beliefs travel across the world and either thrive or are forgotten. Gaiman isn’t afraid to be explicit or get a little philosophical. (Another note: this book is pretty R-rated, as is the tv show). Gaiman’s combination of dark humor and observations about mankind’s beliefs are thought provoking and eye opening. I had a tough time putting down this book when I first read it. I laughed and cried and gaped in awe at the revelations made by Shadow and Mr. Wednesday. It is many different stories stitched together into one beautiful and mysterious tapestry depicting personifications of human beliefs. American Gods is beyond unique and depicts a new kind of America where religion is put to the test against the future.