Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman


The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Ocean at the End of the Lane was the very first Gaiman book I ever read. I’ve sense read nearly everything he’s written, and have discovered that my favorite way to ingest his stories is via audio when he reads the books himself. His voice is divine, and I’ve found that listening to him tell his own stories adds to the magic for me. So what better way to revisit the novel that first charmed me into reading his work than by trying it on audio? It was the right decision. I was once again transported into this nameless boy’s childhood adventures, and Gaiman’s voice merely added to the charm of the tale.

“Words save our lives, sometimes.”

This little book strikes me not as a fairy tale for grown ups, but as a fairy tale that has itself grown up. It has forgotten its own magic for a time, but has now been reminded and is suddenly flooded with memories of itself and that wildness that defined its youth. For that one sparkling moment it is the pure and powerful tale it once was, before that power and purity fade alongside the memory. I feel like this is such a brilliant representation of one’s memories of childhood once one is grown. Poignant and bittersweet and laced with a magic you can’t quote grasp.

“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.

I love Lettie and the Hempstock women. They are mysterious without subterfuge and brimming with magic, but are also down to earth and effortlessly lovely. Their farm at the end of the lane sounds positively idyllic, and brought to mind Green Gables and the like from classic children’s literature. I don’t blame our nameless narrator a bit for wanting to never leave. The food is always delicious, the moon always full, and the kitchen always inviting. Then there’s the duck pond or, as Lettie calls it, the ocean. The ocean is wild, mysterious magic contained by its shores only because it allows itself to be contained. It is fathomless in more ways than one. I found it just as captivating this second time around.

“Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

Ursula Monkton is a great villain along the lines of the Other Mother in Coraline. She’s deeply disturbing, but no one can see that put our narrator and the Hempstock women. She is insidious on multiple levels, and represents everything children fear being brought into their lives by strange adults.

“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.”

Finally, I love our nameless boy. The adult of the framework feels so far removed from his memories of his childhood self that I tended to forget that this main story was a memory, not a current conflict. If I could’ve snatched this unnamed narrator’s seven-year-old self from the pages of the book and adopted him as my own, I would have done so in a heartbeat. He’s a boy after my own heart in that he preferred books to people, and I could sympathize with his belief that disaster seemed to seek him out no matter how hard he tried to avoid it. His complete trust in Lettie, when he couldn’t believe in any non-fictional adult to the same extent, was pure and heartachingly sweet.

“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”

The timelessness of this story is, to my mind, one of its greatest points of appeal. It feels as though peeling back the curtain would reveal how ancient all of the players, outside of our narrator, are, and how they would align with myths and mysteries of eons past if they revealed themselves fully. Gaiman is a master at eliciting such feelings, which he does with much aplomb here. For such a short little book, it has a lot to say, though most of that is delivered in the form of hints and veiled happenings. It’s a truly lovely, poignant story that is equally inviting upon revisiting.

You can order this book from: Bookshop.org (Support independent bookstores!) | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Audible | Libro.fm (Another way to support independent bookstores!) | Book Depository (Free shipping)

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