My instinct was to write this review longhand, which probably won’t mean much to you (except that I am old), but says something to me about the emotional space I was in after finishing the book. I took out my boarding pass, thinking I’d write on the back, not wanting to put it into my just-started professional notebook (it’s teal, and has a fabric placeholder, and only has writing on one page — a to-do list, most of which remains to be done). That was my instinct but, as it turned out, I’d left my pen in my backpack, which was safely stowed in the overhead compartment, and which I did not feel like retrieving just to get a pen. So, I “wrote” on my phone, in an app designed to look like a pad of yellow paper. I like the lines, but I miss the feeling of pen, and the imaginary lines on the imaginary page made me think of Lettie Hempstock saying that nothing is really what it looks like on the outside.
I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane in less than the time it takes to fly from New Orleans to New York. I started during takeoff and when I finished, and checked the map, it told me that we were somewhere over North Carolina. It was a quick read, and the story is fairly simple: a man returns to a place he once called home and he remembers a time when he was a boy, when he met a girl and lost his heart. But it’s better than that, and not quite like that at all. It was, as the best books are, full of more than you think will possibly fit in its pages. It was A Story, in the way Isak Dinesen might have meant — bigger and more true than you’d imagined at the start. It was not unlike Lettie Hempstock’s ocean, even knowing that it really was an ocean.
And now I’m not sure what to say about it, though I felt, immediately, like I wanted to say something. Hm. That seems like a problem for a book review. So, here’s what I think you need to know to understand what I thought of the book, which is really the point of a review: I mostly didn’t think about it and I consider that a good thing.
It’s been a while since a story pulled me under as wholly as this one. It’s a beautiful story, which I’d heard. It’s a sad story, which I’d also been led to expect. I cried, which didn’t surprise me; I haven’t quite stopped yet, which does (though only a little). I feel a little like the story poked a hole in my heart, though I’m not certain if the hole is a way in or a way out, or maybe just a bit of emptiness. It’s probably a little of each.
The narrator is also a little bit empty inside, though he sometimes remembers having been full, and that sounds about right. I think he’s also a little less empty by the end, though it seems unlikely that he’ll remember that any more clearly than he remembers the emptiness. And that seems just about right, too.
Now that the story is (not really) over, I seem to be exhausted, though whether from the story, or from the crying (or from getting up at 6am, or from being on a plane), I can’t really tell. I feel a little heavier, though not in a bad way; I also feel like smiling, in the happy-sad way that bittersweet endings make me smile, and I wonder why those are always the best.
And now that I’m trying to figure out what to say about the book, I find that I don’t want to say much of anything. But haven’t I already said a lot?
Let me try again:
I think you should read it. I’ll read it again someday. I look forward it, and I’m sad that it will never be new again. That’s a review in itself, isn’t it?
I’m not sure what else to say, except that I fell into an ocean on my way to New York. I’ve climbed back out again, but I think maybe there’s a little inside me still. But maybe it’s always there, and I just forget about it until a good story reminds me.
Thanks for reminding me, Neil.