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

ocean at the end of the lane

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“One wave crested and crashed down close to me, splashing my clothes and face. I could taste the water’s wetness on my lips, and it was salt.” (163)

I want to start by first saying I didn’t know anything about this book when I picked it up. It was one of those airport bookstore buys at a moment when your mind says: I need something to do on a 14 hour flight! The book itself was an easy read, suitable, I agree, for all ages, as the reviews on the back of the book inform me.

Briefly, the story is about a man in his 40s who returns to his childhood home for a funeral. (Was it coincidental that my flight was taking me to a childhood home for similar reasons?) In a desire to escape the masses of people in attendance at the funeral, the main character drives to the end of the lane and remembers a girl he was friends with long ago. This, in turn, brings back a horde of memories that he relives and that we, the reader, step into. We’re taken on a journey through a 7 year olds mind and are reminded of the experiences and feelings we ourselves lived through at that time. A brilliant aspect of this book is the absence of a name for the main character. He becomes that much more relate-able with the constant usage of the first person. Regardless of age or gender, he (the main character) is someone everyone can connect to.

“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 found joy in the things that made me happy.” (149)

Without getting too deep into the plot line, the novel allows us to re-experience the adventure, joy, fear, guilt, and love we all felt as children. There are instances described that we also feel today as adults. Something as simple as the comfort of kittens after a terrible thing; or escaping into books “whenever real life (is) too hard or too inflexible” (p.58); or the feeling after you wake up from a nightmare, but can’t remember why you were so afraid: “The dream was haunting me: standing behind me, present and yet invisible, like the back of my head, simultaneously there and not there” (p.107).

This book is also equal part fantasy (my favorite genre). We are subtly introduced to a strange world that we’re not allowed to understand (we are learning from a child’s perspective, after all). We are given glimpses of all the different worlds that may or may not exist. Ultimately, it is up to the reader as to what is to be believed. I say they are real; magic is real.

There are many creatures, monsters, and shadows existing. We learn monsters have fear, too. Fear is a prevalent theme in this book. We encounter fear with a face and the “unknown” fear.

“If you have something specific and visible to fear, rather than something that could be anything, it is easier” (p.138).

Guilt is another motif that makes a consistent appearance. The feeling of guilt as a child that believes everything is their fault — they caused it, whether directly or indirectly. People blame you for whatever happened and you feel regret that you ever did whatever you did to cause it. And, overwhelmingly you feel guilt, just guilt.

Beyond any of that though, I would say this is a story about hope and trust. A story of imagination and belief, of recognizing the pond to be what it always has been: The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts about it? I’m also always looking for new books to read. Leave me some recommendations in the comments below~

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