If magic is real-- and I am not saying for certain it is or it is not-- Neil Gaiman would write it. And if that magic was about a childhood, and the pIf magic is real-- and I am not saying for certain it is or it is not-- Neil Gaiman would write it. And if that magic was about a childhood, and the power stories have to grow along with that child, what Neil Gaiman would write would be "The Ocean at the End of the Lane."'
There is much said in this short space of a novel, and much that is left unsaid. Our nameless narrator, returning home, to the lands of his youth, for a funeral of an untold person, takes us-- quite literally-- through memory and down the lane to his childhood. A time of reading and retreating and death and friendship and love. "I had been here, hadn't I, a long time ago? I was sure I had. Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like chilhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good." (5) It isn't easy to come to feel for and love a character in a novel, and is more difficult yet to accomplish in a novel short as this. Gaiman does so and more with no seeming effort, swiftly, as we come to know the boy who's name we do not know, who had "Nobody [come] to [his] seventh birthday party." (9) and who believes from a young age that "Books were safer than other people anyway." (9) A series of traumatizing events lead our narrator through the loss of his cat, the witness of his family's border's suicide, and to the house at the end of his lane, to a friend he will make. Lettie Hempstock-- that friend-- dare I say has an instant place of prominence in the world literary canon; this older girl who knows the ways of the world, and that those ways are a kind of magic, and understands the stories of the wild, along with two older generations of her family's women.
A story about stories, and the power within stories, Gaiman employs some of his most beautiful prose to comment on the things of childhood, of all life, and the ways to use stories to confront them. "'Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren't [...] monsters are scared,' said Lettie. 'That's why they're monsters.'" (112) And these comments, out of the mouths of children like Lettie, are why I read.
There is a great beauty at work here in this novel, of stories and their redemptive powers. As our narrator ages, to the point of an adult, he returns time and again to these people of his stories, after having seemingly forgotten them. Returning to a place and time when they are real. These people, these stories, which have the power to save a life and to redeem-- this beautifully quirky trinity of women, who are willing to lay down their lives so that you may be saved, and live-- these people who, beyond all reality are very real. Feelings, stories and people like Neil Gaiman has breathed into life here are why I read, and why I consider Gaiaman one of my favorite writers working today. Life does not always accomodate rereading novels, when there are so many out there still to be read-- but I will visit the tale of this boy and his friend Lettie, and come to the ocean, again....more
You know a novel is something special when, within the time of the first few pages, you know those who live within the pages see, feel the world the sYou know a novel is something special when, within the time of the first few pages, you know those who live within the pages see, feel the world the same as you.
"Every living things dies. There's no stopping it." (1) So begins "Unsaid," a novel that denies category at every turn one is available. The novel is narrated by Helena, a veternarian who has died of cancer. The reader is never told any specific thing about the afterlife Helena inhabits; we feel, see and experience it along with her. We don't know why Helena has stayed behind-- but we see through her all she has left behind, and still is connected to in life. Her husband, her animal companions, the friends who shared her cause she worked with.
In "Unsaid" Helena explores death. Her death, what it means to the living she has left behind, what role death played in her life while she was alive. She relives the decisions she had to make as a verternarian and human, when the choice came to end the life of an animal, and she relives the struggle she put up against her own death to cancer. Helena cannot interact with the living; she simply watches. As her husband, David, comes to understand her in ways he never did, or could never fully, in life. As her rescued dogs live and grieve for her. As the man she shared a veterinary practice with continues to try and keep a morally sound practice amid a world where ethics are not always considered. As the colleauge she shared a life of work on chimpanzee communication with struggles to continue her work; as the chimpanzee she focused on, Cindy, is at the mercy of the humans who care for her while this all goes on.
There is so much beauty in this book. On loss, and all life-- animal and human alike. Subjects that could come off as heavy-handed in the hands of a lesser writer are handled here delicately, and always so movingly, by Neil Abramson. The connections the characters make and share-- and how they all do, cannot or learn to communicate with each other-- human and animal-- are beautifully rendered truth.
While so much of this novel's power is subtle and natural, it nonetheless carries great, consistent power. I can't remember a novel that has moved me to tears earlier or more consistently in quite sometime. Beginning with Helena's recollection of her meeting her husband, as they move an injured deer out of the road; to the disabled child of one of Helena's colleagues new colleauges being able to see the world in a way which is the only one to bring comfort to an elderly woman who just lost her dog in surgery; to the many epiphanies David has as he, left behind, comes to understand his wife and her work.
For anyone who has loved, lost an animal companion. For anyone who has loved, lost a person of any consiousness. To anyone who loves the power of literature and bearing-witness and writing stories and longed to understand another person or being, and gain entrace in that most secret of gardens-- Neil Abramson has written a novel of comfort that understands, knows....more