Coraline was my first Neil Gaiman book. It followed an extraordinary child, who fought a tall something that looked like her mother. Her parents were imprisoned by that thing in a house, which was an eerie replica of Coraline’s. And, there was only a door between the real and the strange world. The children’s book was well-supplied with dreamlike stuff. Cardboard houses. Talking animals. A monster sort of a thing with a pair of buttons for eyes. Some scenes were arresting, surreal. The Ocean at the End of the Lane too is beautifully bizarre as Coraline.
I meet the protagonist, when he drives to a random place, to take some time off from a funeral. In a while, he realises that he is on his way to a lane where he lived for a while. When he was seven, at a farmhouse at the end of lane, he had met Lettie Hempstock, her mother, and her grandmother. There was a pond. Lettie had called it an ocean.
About forty years after his first rendezvous with them, he goes back to the pond, and recalls the series of scary events that took place at the lane. His memory flickers every once in a while. His narration is unreliable; but, it’s never dull and unbelievable. In a world, where an ancient woman remembers the moon being made, where a girl has been 11-years-old for about a billion years, nothing out-of-the-ordinary appears dubious.
At several junctures, I was thinking of Murakami, for Gaiman has partially repeated some of the themes explored in Coraline, quite like the former whose motifs are popular. A lonely, neglected child. A thing that has got a ragged-cloth for a body. A cat that follows its human at all times. Random acts of kindness by strangers. And, trance-like scenes. There is a pattern. It’s predictable. But, not mundane.
Despite the intuitive writing in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Coraline seemed more striking. Maybe, it’s just me. I am a sucker for children’s literature. Some of the elements borrowed from Coraline – the ragged-cloth monster, for instance – might not go well with this book, because I needed something that’s more hideous and frightening. But Gaiman shines where he explores the most touchy theme – memories. (I love the way Murakami writes about memories too.)
Those are the parts in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I see myself relishing more. Even while I was reading the book, I stopped there and ran through some of those passages many times, heaving big sighs and losing myself in reveries.
And, it looks like I am beginning to like Gaiman more. The writer’s style is charmingly simple, yet lyrical; the ideas… mind-bending, and poignant.
Some favourite passages here:
I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.
That’s the trouble with living things. Don’t last very long. Kittens one day, old cats the next. And then just memories. And the memories fade and blend and smudge together.
“Nothing’s ever the same,” she said. “Be it a second later or a hundred years. It’s always churning and roiling. And people change as much as oceans.”
Coraline left me feeling content. I knew everything was okay in her world. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, for unfathomable reasons, made me melancholic. I wanted to know more about the Hempstocks, and Lettie’s ocean. And the life of Hempstocks itself would make an intriguing story. When one has been living since the time the moon was made, I want to know if she is tired… tired of immortality.