Tuesday 2 July 2013

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

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
From Goodreads.
The thing I love most about reading Neil Gaiman is how the magic is so close. His books are never set in different worlds, they’re never far away, they’re always almost right where you are, and that makes the magic seem so much more possible. Neverwhere is set in London below- literally a London below London. American Gods is just America, with differences. Even in Coraline her other life is just through a door and down a passage. Everything is immediate, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane is no different. The majority of the magickeyness of the novel takes place pretty much at the end of the nameless narrator’s garden.
After reading it, I’ve gone on a bit of a Gaiman binge, because quite frankly nothing else will do. Except maybe The Night Circus...I’ve been looking forward to The Ocean at the End of the Lane for pretty much a year, and I’m so glad that it lived up to my expectations. Even as I’m writing this I know I’ll have to go back and read it again, and to be honest I’ll probably write another post about it after I’ve done that because this is going to just glance over the surface and be so much less than it requires and deserves.
Simply put, it’s a beautiful, unnerving, magical novel. It has a child protagonist but is definitely not for children (although to my mind there’s very little Gaiman that is for children, really. Not young ones, anyway), and it also seems very personal to Gaiman. When I was reading it I kept wondering if it was autobiographical (apparently it’s based on the landscape of his childhood, but isn’t biographical in terms of events and suchlike) because it feels so intense. I didn’t just read this novel; I immersed myself in it. I’ve been thinking about it for days since I finished it and I know that once I finish this post I won’t be happy with it. There will be so much more that I wish I’d said but while I’m writing it I can’t find any of those words. Which is why there will be a second part to the discussion at some point.
There’s not a lot I can say about it without being spoilery, because all the stuff I felt the strongest about, which unsettled me the most or that I loved the most revolves around major plot points, and more than anything I think you should go out and read this book. Some people have disliked it, and you can feel free to do so, I just feel very strongly that you should read it first. And if you’re already a fan of Neil Gaiman then you should definitely read it. In fact, why haven’t you read it already? It took me two days, and that was only because the baby was teething or I would’ve been quicker. It’s awesome and thrilling and totally inspiring and I’ll be recommending it to everybody from now until forever.
And thanks to Andi from Estella’s Revenge I read this post by Neil’s wife, Amanda Palmer, and it made me cry, so you should probably read that too.


  1. Duuuude, you and Hanna have made me want to read Neil Gaiman SO MUCH. But I still don't know where to start. HELP ME! (This sounds preeeetty awesome, I have to say.)

  2. Ahhhhhh, I want this so much. I skim-read the plot summary at the top because I kind of want to go into it not knowing too much about it, if that makes any sense?

    It looks whimsical and interesting and amazing, and that will do me fine :)

  3. Wow, after reading your review, I know I absolutely must pick something up by Neil Gaiman! I've recently fallen in love with the genre of magical realism and a lot of that is because of what you said at the beginning - the magic just seems so much more believable if it's only a slight addition to the way things really are :)