I have quickly become a Neil Gaiman fan, with books such as American Gods and Neverwhere swiftly joining the ranks of my favorite books of all time. I even read my kids his children's book Instructions. I thought I was used to the cadence of Gaiman's modern-day fairy tales. I happily added The Ocean at the End of the Lane to my Summer Reading List, fully expecting to blow through it in a weekend, maybe even a day.
It took me weeks to finish this book, which is saying something because it is a mere 178 pages. Nothing near the biblical proportions of American Gods, and still half the size of Neverwhere, but I felt like I spent whole lifetimes trudging through those first fifty pages.
I am used to the beginning of Gaiman's stories being a little slow. His are not stories that grip me from page one, word one, but rather they slowly creep up on you, growing on you until you have physical difficulty separating yourself from the story. On average, it takes me about 20-25 pages to really get into his stories, but once they take off, oh boy do they take off. With Ocean I would take days off between chapters, hopeful that when I returned I would finally have entered the meat of the story. It took 50 long pages for me to finally feel invested in what was happening in this book. The entrance of Ursula Monkton, the demon temptress in nanny's clothing was a godsend. This is where the story came alive.
From page 50 to 150 the story is riveting. You are completely immersed in the story of this little boy who has somehow let in a bit of evil from another world, or perhaps the same world, but a different dimension. You watch as the creature shifts between demon and Ursula Monkton, and you sit on the edge of your seat waiting for a resolution, waiting for the other-worldy women (the maiden, the mother and the crone) living at the farm with the ocean at the end of the lane to swoop in and save this boy. And then, the book creeps toward its end, much like it crept toward its actual beginning.
Now, please do not misunderstand, I did not hate the book. Knowing the fan base that this man carries, I am not eager to bring on the wrath of an angry mob of Gaiman zealots. The book is beautifully written. Gaiman is masterful at interweaving fantasy into reality until the extraordinary and the magical seem entirely probable in waking life. I did not hate the book by any measure. I just didn't love it, and I really wanted to love it.