Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013) by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is typical Neil Gaiman. It’s got the sort of the storyline that only he could write and characters only he could create. It’s got that childhood joyfulness about it, despite, at the same time, feeling very adult. And like most Neil Gaiman books, it’s very good.

After returning to the town he grew up in for a funeral, a man finds himself remembering things about his childhood he had long forgotten… Sitting in a farmhouse he hasn’t visited in decades, the man slowly recalls the time he spent with a girl named Lettie Hemstock and the adventure they went on together.

The novel is about memory; forgetting things, remembering things and misremembering things. We all did exciting things when we were kids, went on adventures, made up stories… and sometimes it only takes the smallest thing to cause these memories to come back to us with the clearest clarity. This is what I think Gaiman is trying to tap into with this novel – and, if so, it’s something he does really well. It only takes the smallest moment to make the protagonist’s entire adventure with Lettie to come flooding back to him – after it had escaped from him – and it causes him to relive his childhood again. At the back of the book, Gaiman even notes that his inspiration for the novel came from his father telling him about an event from his childhood that he had completely forgotten about.

Like most of his novels, Gaiman crams The Ocean at the End of the Lane to the brim with ideas. I wouldn’t say it works quite as well for me here as it did in American Gods and Stardust, but it’s still a joy to see all the fantastical things that come out of his head. And it really ties into the child perspective of the novel. All kids come up with weird and wonderful ideas, and Gaiman’s method of filling the book with fantastical ideas really seems to reflect that. The protagonist’s childhood adventure – despite its darker moments – almost seems like the sort of thing a kid would come up with.

And like a child’s story, if you look too deeply into the novel and try to analyse it too much, it does start to come apart at the seams a little bit, and becomes a little bit nonsensical. So don’t. Just relish the opportunity to become a child again, and enjoy all the book’s great colourful characters; Lettie, Old Mrs Hemstock, Ursula Monkton…

Neil Gaiman has once again written the sort of story that all writers wish they could write.

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