Book Review # 11: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Number of Pages: 181
Date Published: January 1, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven,
he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond
her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.
This is my first Gaiman read. I found myself reading this book slower than any other novel I’ve read not because I keep putting it down but because it’s just so beautifully and magically written that I wanted to dive into it again and again. I can honestly say that this book, despite being less than 200 pages long, was beyond captivating.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a retelling of a man’s childhood only not ordinarily so for his story did not dwell on scraped knees, tree houses, or games of tag. It went deeper than that, so deep that I couldn’t help but question my own memories in the hopes that something equally remarkable might have happened to me as well.
Superficially, I loved how everything was sufficiently described. The diction, the tone, the setting- these elements evoke an odd and lovely atmosphere that is thoroughly capable of stirring anyone’s emotions. The atmosphere shifts continuously to display both innocent and ghastly childhood thoughts. I can’t emphasize this enough so to quote:
Dinner was wonderful. There was a joint of beef, with roast potatoes, golden-crisp on the outside and soft and white inside, buttered greens I did not recognize, although I think now that they might have been nettles, roasted carrots all blackened and sweet (I did not think that I liked cooked carrots so I nearly did not eat one, but I was brave, and I tried it, and I liked it and was disappointed in boiled carrots for the rest of my childhood). For dessert there was the pie, stuffed with apples and with swollen raisins and crushed nuts, all topped with a thick yellow custard, creamier and richer than anything I had ever tasted at school or at home.
here’s another one:
I do not know why I did not ask an adult about it. I do not remember asking adults about anything, except as a lot resort. That was the year I dug out a wart from my knee with a penknife, discovering how deeply I could cut before it hurt, and what the roots of a wart looked like.
I admire Gaiman for his ability to weave this story into an amalgam of the dusk and daylight feelings that accompany childhood. I have not come across a good narrative in such a long time.
There’s not much to tell without giving anything away but I loved every fabric of this story – the characters were wonderful, both magical and real. The conflicts that appear during the narrator’s childhood were haunting and memorable.
His words do so much more than tell you about the unfathomable things that occurred. His words cause you to fabricate images. Everything he says creeps under your skin. He subtly brings you to his wanderings – the time, the surroundings, the circumstances, so that you yourself can experience how it feels to drown in those eerie and dreamlike affairs that he could not seem to forget.
This boy’s story is a gripping tale of childhood memory – what we enjoy exploring, the monsters that lurk in the dark, the monsters that lurk in people and inside of us, and essentially, what makes us the way we are and what makes us human.
You can have endless interpretations after reading this book but you will most certainly enjoy the ride more than you will the thinking or the pondering that comes after it. You will be amazed at how this book could easily awaken feelings inside of you. It will make you wonder if you’ve ever felt them when you were a child. What had you thought then? How did you feel and what did you do? Do you remember? This book does not devote itself to a specific audience. It is as Gaiman says, for anyone who has ever been seven years old.
If you delight in fantasy and imagery, this book is definitely for you. If you are however skeptical and prefer stories with more realistic and concrete themes, I still say give this book a chance. After all, we’ve all experienced the wonders of being a seven-year old. This book will bring you back and frankly I don’t think you’ll regret it.
Favorite Quotes from The Ocean at the End of the Lane:
I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else
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.
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 went away in my head, into a book. That was where I went whenever real life was too hard or too inflexible.
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.
And did I pass?” The face of the old woman on my right was unreadable in the gathering dusk. On my left the younger woman said, “You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.