Many years ago, I picked up The Sandman graphic novel series by Neil Gaiman. Its premise was spectacular and the imagination was vivid. But, as I turned the pages of issue after issue, the story never quite went anywhere and the characters never felt that interesting. I gave up on it. Reading about Gaiman recently, I decided to give him another chance by picking up his slim novella The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Narrated by an unnamed adult protagonist, the story centers around the events of a few days or weeks from his childhood. Children watch, imagine and dream about the world differently than adults. Since our child still lies inside our adult self, so are our witness of those years ingrained in us as our childhood imaginations. Gaiman plays with this beautifully to show how the protagonist dreamt his own story around the suicide of a person, his befriending of Lettie Hempstock (a kid from a nearby farm) and their fight against his new nanny Ursula Monkton (imagined as the villain from another dimension). This kid who reads books a lot, basically spins his own Stephen King-like fantasy narrative to fit the odd events he has to witness at home and in his neighborhood.
Just like in The Sandman, the premise is enthralling and the book starts off with such a great view into a child's dreams and imagination. But, I soon found that it was plagued by similar problems as that graphic novel. Gaiman is great at reminding us of our childhood memories and how we saw the adult world as kids. But the book is mostly disappointing in all other aspects. The characters are not compelling and the plot is just not there. There is not enough substance to justify the length of the book, it might have made for a great short story. This book is a good walk down the dark corridors of our earliest memories.