The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

31 Jan 2017

It feels like such a long time since I did a book review on here, but thanks to Christmas and all the books I received, I finally have a new one to share with you all! If you love magical realism and seeing the world through the eyes of a child, then this may just be the book for you. This is The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman, and I put this on my Christmas list after seeing raving reviews. I had no idea what to expect, but it was beautiful and just a little bit bizarre. With only 181 pages, I finished it very quickly and just had to tell you all about it.

"This is what he remembers, as he sits by the ocean at the end of the lane:
A dead man on the back seat of the car,
and warm milk at the farmhouse;
An ancient little girl, and an old woman
who saw the moon being made;
A beautiful housekeeper with a monstrous smile;
And dark forces woken that were best left undisturbed.

They are memories hard to believe, waiting at the edges of things.
The recollection of a man who thought he was bit is now, perhaps, remembering a time when he was saved..."

If that blurb doesn't grab you, I don't know what will! As always, this is a spoiler-free zone - keeping that in mind, this story follows a man as he goes back to the lane where he grew up. I read that the man is supposed to be unnamed, but I'm pretty sure he gets called George at least once - please correct me if I'm wrong! He goes to the house of a family that he befriended when he was younger to visit their ocean, where he recalls the events that led up to this moment. The majority of it is told through his eyes as a seven year old child, so at times, I did find myself questioning a lot of what was going on, even though I know that children are much more aware of their surroundings than adults think. Because of this, the narrator was highly descriptive and would often get lost in talking about the setting.

Let's talk about characters for a bit. I grew so attached to the main character and that started during the beginning, where he tells us about that disaster of a birthday party. Honestly, it made me want to cry a little, because no child should have a party like that! He did get on my nerves a little with all his questioning and being sceptical of the women in the farmhouse, but mind you, who wouldn't be just a little bit wary? But speaking of the women in the farmhouse, I absolutely loved them. I really like Lettie - she was exactly how eleven year olds are with younger children. She was bossy in a gentle way, always took the lead and had imagination. I also really liked Old Mrs. Hempstock and her light-hearted "no comment" attitude. At the end of the book, we still have no idea about them and their lives, reflecting the whole "no comment" thing, so your mind is left to wander a little and form a story of your own.

Initially, I had it in my head that this was a young adult fiction, but after reading it, I would say that this is definitely aimed more at adults. It's a lot darker than what I originally thought, with themes of childhood traumas, monsters and nightmares (and there's a really awkward sex scene, but I'm not entirely sure that this contributes to my adult rating). With all of these themes in mind, I'd say that this book is aimed at adults who miss childhood or adults that are left with a mental burden from a childhood trauma. But along with these darker tones, there's a lot of magic, adventure and overcoming fears - and plenty of cats - so if I were to put an age on it, I would say people over the age of 17 would enjoy this, but also say that as you get older, it will become more appealing.

I'll be honest, this is the first Neil Gaiman book I've read (I do have an illustrated copy of Coraline somewhere, so I'll have to dig that out) and I think something he's famed for is his style of writing. This novel is so floaty and almost dreamlike which ties in perfectly with the magical realism and the bizarre story. It helps with making the story flow, but also creates this sense of disillusion, tying back to the young narrator. As a reader, we're put into a position where we aren't sure what is real and what is just imagination, which then poses the question of how real were the monsters and the magic of our own childhoods?

On a similar note, after doing some reading into other peoples opinions of the book after I'd finished, I found that there was a whole load of symbolism that I'd missed. I'm not sure whether it's because I didn't have my analysing head on or if I was just lost in the sea of beautiful words that is the novel, but I was blown away by the things I was reading. Seriously, particle physics, wormholes, dark matter and just a dash of neopaganism?! I definitely recommend reading up on some of the theories behind the symbols in the book because it really is quite fascinating.

So if you're a fan of magic, the feeling of nothing-is-as-it-seems, kittens, wise women, gorgeous writing and inquisitive narrators, I definitely recommend you read this book.

Would you like to comment?