I just finished up Neil Gaiman’s new novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Prior to this I have only read American Gods, which I enjoyed, but didn’t necessarily find myself enthralled by. Admittedly, my complete lack of interest in mythology probably gets in the way of me enjoying an author who leans so heavily on the fantastical and mythical. That said, I had zero interest in the happenings of poor southern families, but Faulker’s The Sound and the Fury was a great book. In the same way, American Gods worked because its world felt real and its characters were interesting. The whole point of storytelling is getting people onboard with the story the way you are telling it – when you cannot do this, you are a poor story teller.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane just isn’t interesting. It’s not even intriguing in the way purposefully obscure literature can sometimes be. It just feels forced and lazy. Gaiman’s prose is great, but the novel’s characters and plot are like reading a beautiful description of a nap.
The whole thing suffers from what I would call “J.J. Abrams Syndrome.” JJAS occurs when writers start to mistake ambiguity for depth and symbolism for plot. The Ocean at the End of the Lane leaves you scratching your head, not because its themes are so deep and unwieldy, but because you keep asking why they expected this padded short story to be worth $20 and why you paid the $20.
The following sort of exchange happens throughout the book and is supposed to create a feeling of mystery:
A- “Is that what she wanted me to do?”
B- “Is what?”
A- “Do X?”
B- Shrugs and smiles but doesn’t answer.
Such wonder. Wow such laziness. I think I’ll still read Sandman, but if it sucks I am going to seriously question the sanity of the Cult of Gaiman.