This title seemed like it would be a short easy introduction to Neil Gaiman; I’m not sure I’m ready to take on American Gods, in book or TV series form. To be honest, it is difficult for me to immerse myself in the worlds that fantasy authors create; something inside me resists learning the new vocabularies. Then, I suppose I have culturally-honed expectations for witch characters, and I wanted the Hempstocks to simply conform to those expectations. It’s never clear whether they are witches, or fairy godmothers, or just weird other-worldly occasionally benevolent forces. Annalee Newitz’s review on NPR articulates one issue with the characterization of Lettie Hempstock:
Perhaps the one problem in The Ocean at the End of the Lane is that we never quite understand why Lettie decides to protect our protagonist. Does she feel sorry for him? Is he especially imaginative and brave? Or do the Hempstocks simply go through a phase where they bond with a random human? We never know — and the narrator never knows either.
Gaiman’s a good writer, and there are moments of “universal truth” embedded in this fast-paced fairy tale. One thing I liked about it was how fast I could finish reading the story. I really liked Gaiman’s Fortunately the Milk (a book I bought and read to my five year old). I think I’ll stick to that almost slapstick Dahl-esque form of surrealism for the foreseeable future.