Family Reads: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

 Welcome to the inaugural post of Family Reads! Family Reads is a monthly feature where my mom, dad or sister and I read and discuss a book. Posts with a link-up go live on the last Sunday of each month, so feel free to grab the banner and join in however you like.

Reno: Neil Gaiman is a favourite author of mine. Moo took me to his signing and waited patiently for a few hours while I stood in line! Ocean became my new favourite Gaiman book during my first read and I brought it to Japan so I could reread it for the first time. 

Mom: My connection to NG is through my daughter. I recall years back seeing the movie Stardust and thinking that would make a great book. Oh, so little did I know. Years later I took that same  daughter to his book signing. When she says a few hours, please translate to 6.5 hours. His books are often topics of conversation in our home. I was excited when asked to read Ocean – I experienced first hand the imagination in the words NG puts to paper.

After explaining my rating scale to Mom, we both gave this book 5 stars. Mom says she would like to have a copy on her shelf to reread. Now, onto our discussion. We spent a couple hours on Skype chatting (mostly talking about the book, but with family interruptions and tangents include). I recorded and transcribed our conversation, then selected some highlights for this post (we talked about a lot). You’ll get more out of this discussion if you’ve read the book (spoilers ahead!). Here is some of our discussion on memory, children’s experiences, and relating to the story (and also, what might be the narrator’s name?).

I remember my own childhood vividly… I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let the adults know I knew. It would scare them. (Maurice Sendak, quoted at the begin of Oceans)

Reno: I was reading a blog post about whether the boy’s experiences are ‘real’ or not. Some people think it’s just the kid rationalizing what happened. But that quote at the beginning, especially, makes me think… That’s why he forgets his experience, because he’s an adult now, he can’t really believe that all happened. Does that make sense?
Mom: Yup. So when he’s back there, he remembers everything vividly, but when he leaves, his mind says “No, that’s too out there, it can’t be true.”
Reno: It’s like what kids experience isn’t as valid or real.
Mom: Right, like there’s no possible way it could be real. Like when you’re in kindergarten and you use all different colours for different things but as you get older you’re told you should only use this colour for that, because the sky’s blue and not orange.
Reno: YES, spot on! Just because you’re a kid doesn’t mean your imagination or experiences aren’t real or vaild.
Mom: Yeah, because we all experiences things in a different way.
Reno: That’s why everyone likes this book in a different way…because it’s ‘deep’.
Mom: Because everyone relates to it on different levels, how it’s ‘their’ story.
Reno:  Yes! That’s how I feel – “This book really speaks to me” and 5 million other people, in their own way. I think that’s part of why Oceans  stands out so much – we all love American Gods or Neverwhere for the same reasons, but we love Oceans perhaps for own ranging personal reasons.

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Reno: What do you think of the main character not having a name? *Mom makes a face* Haha, Mom’s like “Wait a minute…”!
Mom: How does he not have a name?
Reno: He just doesn’t. He’s never named.
Mom: Oh! *flips through book* Okay, so you start reading and you just have this picture of a boy in your head. I never noticed that he didn’t have a name.
Reno: It’s so smoothly written. Maybe that’s one of the things that makes it more adaptable, like how you can put yourself in his shoes more.
Mom: Yeah! Well, for goodness sakes. If I had to say he had a name, I would have said Fred or something.
Reno: Hahaha, Fred, that sounds good. I was thinking something like…not Kevin, but maybe a K name…Tom? No, not Tom… Rick? No no, not Rick! Something British. Fred is pretty good, actually.
Mom: Fred is the only name I can think of him by.
Reno: Maybe I just think of him as Neil. Neil is pretty good, too.
Mom:  Well, I never gave it a thought that I didn’t know his name. I just knew. You just relate to him anyhow.

Reno: I think that’s good. I have a lot to work from.
Mom: Oh, do you? I didn’t feel I’d given you anything.
Reno: No no, there’s lots! Good job, Mom.
Mom: Thank-you! I enjoyed it. Did I tell you I’ve read The Book of Lost Things now?

And then we proceeded to talk about that one for half an hour 🙂 So, that’s it! That’s the end of my first Family Reads posts. I hope you enjoyed it. I’ll probably experiment with the format going forward; I’m not yet sure the best way to share the conversations. I had tons of notes that I wasn’t sure how to incorporate, and instead decided just to focus on what I thought was the most important part of our discussion. Going forward perhaps I’ll include more. Anyway, I definitely had a lot of fun talking about one of my favourite books with my Mom! Is there anything you would add to our discussion? If you’ve written a Family Reads post this month, add your link here. (pardon me while I figure out how to run this sort of link-up feature…)

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane also counts towards the Re-Read Challenge.

WHEN I First Read – Shortly after publication, at the start of July 2013. I was traveling around Ireland at the time, so I didn’t devour it the day of publication like I would have at home.

WHAT I Remember – The feeling that this was Gaiman’s most personal story for me, and that it was a small story in an immense story.

WHY I Wanted to Re-ReadOcean is one of the precious few physical books I brought to Japan. I planned on rereading it this year because I hadn’t read it since its release (though I feel like I reread it when I got back home from Ireland [Sept. 2013], there’s no documentation of that). Mom said she was going to read it next, so I decided I would also read it for our first Family Reads.

HOW I Felt After Re-Reading – Very pleased that the story held up on reread. It was just as deep and magical as the first read.

WOULD I Re-Read Again – Certainly! This has potential to be an annual reread book (not sure, though.)

Have you re-read any of Gaiman’s works? What did you think upon rereading?

  • I love this discussion! I will look back at it when I actually read the book (it's been on my list for way too long). Congrats on the success of your first Family Read.

  • This is SUCH a great idea. I love that you and your mother got to have such a lovely, thoughtful discussion about this book. (Also, I can't believe it never occurred to me that the MC wasn't named in Ocean at the End of the Lane! WUT.)

  • Thanks very much! 🙂 I hope you enjoy this one; it's one of my favourites.

  • Thank-you! ^-^ I was really happy with how our discussion went. I can't wait to do the next one with my sister.